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What makes a good pig manager?

Over the past 15 years I have been privileged to sit in discussion with some very impressive and successful pig farm managers. One can learn much from successful people in all walks of life, and once I left the farm I made some notes and recorded some of their verbatim comments. I opened this file when I wrote last month's blog on 'Who takes vital decisions on the pig farm?'

Over the past 15 years I have been privileged to sit in discussion with some very impressive and successful pig farm managers. One can learn much from successful people in all walks of life, and once I left the farm I made some notes and recorded some of their verbatim comments. I opened this file when I wrote last month's blog on 'Who takes vital decisions on the pig farm?'

Most managers were over 45 years old and had 20 years or more experience of pigs. As individuals all were quite different personalities, but what was common to virtually all of them I list below.

1. They were all good planners
Managing pig flow and managing work flow - equally important. Daily meetings held with key staff and weekly meetings with all staff, at which clear instructions were given for the week ahead. All workers had clear job responsibility sheets, including their own health and safety, emergency drill, the farms legal responsibilities and veterinary updates.

2. Monitoring progress
"You cannot manage what you don't measure," is what I often heard. The bigger farms had a full-time recorder and the smaller farms hired a recorder for two sessions a week. "Free the workers to concentrate on what they are good at - looking after the pigs." The weekly get-togethers were used for checking the accuracy of input collection and the manager interpreting the week's progress to the staff. Computerised records, of course, with frequent use of a bolt-on predictive 'what if?' facility. "I don't often use it, but I need to know what is possible/likely."

3. Buying and selling
Some liked it, others suffered it, but all agreed that regular telephone and personal contact with suppliers and prospective buyers was essential. All were skilled negotiators, knowing how far to go and when to concede. "Never give up anything without getting something in return."

4. Motivating staff
Some managers were tough, some friendly, but all aimed to be seen as fair. "Ask about their families and their out-of-hours interests/hobbies," I heard frequently, just as "Create a team spirit." Occasional, i.e. annual, 'socials' with staff family members, including the owner's family, all paid for by the company, were suggested. As for checking on things, "be in the right place at the 'wrong' time." Then guide and encourage. "Don't bawl people out; explain, but don't patronise."

5. Passionate about pigs?
Surprisingly - not always! More interested in business management, cost control and getting value for money. "Farm for the most underprivileged pig on the farm, and for the least committed worker." So, how much thinking/planning; how much supervising/ tail chasing? About 60:40 seemed to be the split.

6. Self-training
"As a general rule the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information," said Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister 1874-1880. "I make time to secure that information," one manager told me.

I relished that remark, as it is where Pig Progress scores!

6 comments

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    Peter Rutten Holland

    Agree. It's how you play the game. Teamspirit I think it's maybe the most important. The best TEAM is winning the game. I'm working for 20 years as a pigmanager consultant in Europe and the best team off workers give you the best result. The boss is almost everytime near the people. Only in that way he is good and stands good informed.

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    Henry Rosolowski

    That was a great article.
    I can agree for most part. In Western Canada/Manitoba many farms are big enough that managers are hired. That can bring in more concerns but it can also create a nice buffer between owner and workers, so he/she can observe their operation from a 'distance.'
    In Manitoba there are many excellent managers that do a very good job, and have those characteristics.

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    Ross da Costa

    Interesting - Most pig producing units are working on a tight budget and with too few workers who work hard for little returns. The owners are generally money ambitious and hard on the managers and workers. I like the part about motivaing staff

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    Bridget Dunn Australia

    As a manager of a 3300 sow breeder unit the hardest part of my job is motivating employees. I work in the sheds all day every day and most of my staff do not care about the pigs they are here because they can not find another job as soon as they do they are gone.

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    John Gadd

    Bridget – I really do sympathise with you as I have met this depressing problem on European Eastern bloc large units and I know how insoluble it seems. So I must try – rather pathetically – to help.
    What they have tried to do - in short - was as follows, but not every action worked, by any means...

    * Ensure the workers were not overworked. What heavy manual, dirty and repetiitve jobs can be eased by mechanisation/automation?

    * Give them ample time off.
    * Have a clear progression ladder.

    * Install a bonus system. One was the longer you stay with us the more pay you will get, on a 'climb the cliff' basis. Another was stay 'x' months/year and we give you an old banger (car).

    * Don't leave them in one job too long – vary the monotony and get them trained in other skills.

    * Give them a sow of their own – they get the value of the progeny.

    * Give them a uniform and a title, foster esprit de corps.

    * Feed them well with a good canteen and their own cook.

    * See if some can be helped with their kids education. Child wants to play the piano/ violin/ paint/ draw/ play a sport? See if that can be arranged. Enrol the local authority if you can, using their facilities/ getting a grant. Australians are generous people I've found.

    * Can bussing in and out be arranged? Saves the worker's gasoline costs.

    * Free or contributory medicare.

    Yes, some/ many of these are impossible, but you and the owner – try to think outside the loop and you may hit on something. Faced with a serious labour problem which can decimate potential profit or even close the unit down, some people in this situation conciously budget for such schemes (e.g. one 4,000 sow unit 15% of budgeted income) to compete with the local labour market.
    All the luck in the world, ma'am!

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    Martin Atkin

    some good sugestions above,but as ive found over the last 25 years most of the commited pig men have retired or been made redundant,those of us that are left dont really like being moved from our main job on farm,mine being service area with 800 sows,only the uninteresed people like to be moved around on farm as they seem to find it difficult to get good results.bonus systems work well if you have honest staff.

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