Lean solution to fatten profits on pig farms

15-07-2020 | | |
Foto: O'Keeffe Piggeries
Foto: O'Keeffe Piggeries

The EU PiG Innovation Group aims to discover and share best practices and innovations in swine production. The European partner network recognises several ambassadors whose innovations stood out. In this episode: the implementation of a 5S Lean Programme, which won in the category ‘precision production – reducing costs’.

The Ambassador

Pig farmer Pat O’Keeffe from Cork, Ireland. He operates a 2,000 sow integrated pig farm, O’Keeffe Piggeries, breeding and finishing the pigs to slaughter weight.

The innovation

Some of the best innovations are the simplest, and this is one of them. The 5S Lean Programme, pioneered by Toyota Motor Company, applies standard housekeeping practices in the workplace through the 5 principles of Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise, and Sustain.

The team looks at the overall farm and instead of trying to improve everything, they select areas which had the highest usage and the most issues. For O’Keeffe Piggeries, a 5S lean programme was developed for the maintenance, mineral storage, medicine storage and mixing rooms. Areas were mapped out, staff were trained and the programme was implemented and closely monitored through checklists and audits. A Kanban system was put in place to organise and store mineral samples by month of use, and a number- and colour-coded chart was used with scores – a score of 6 signifies substantial action is needed, a score of 7 or 8 being means minor corrections are needed, and 9 and 10 mean ‘acceptable’.

The idea

Lean principles are widely used and have proven themselves as cost savings in many industries. Commercial pig farms run as a business and so the application of Lean Manufacturing was investigated.

The collaboration

The overall project is a collaboration between the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland (Teagasc), the Irish Food Marketing Board (Bord Bia) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This 5S project that was carried out on O’Keeffe Piggeries was in collaboration with lean consultant Barry O’Brien from the Leading Edge Group consultancy firm, and Ciarán Carroll, a specialised pig advisor with Teagasc.


  • The programme is simple.
  • A more organised workplace.
  • Equipment and tools are easier to find.
  • The storage of mineral samples and medicines is streamlined.
  • Less wasted product.
  • The checklists and audits ensure that there is always enough medicine on site, while avoiding having too much on site.
  • Overall, there are time savings of 30 minutes per staff member per day. This adds up to a lot of time and money.
  • As inefficiencies continue to be exposed and addressed, the financial savings will be in the region of € 10,000 to € 20,000 per year.

The costs

Initial one-off costs associated with the consultant who provides the Lean 5S training and developed and monitored the plan come to approximately € 3,000 (€ 1.50 per sow or € 0.05 per pig). Other minor costs include paper for the checklists and audits and containers for the mineral samples.

Can other pig farms benefit?

This is a simple innovation that can have a significant impact on a pig farm. It is easy to implement and has international application across any farm business. It shows the broader pig sector what can be done by implementing simple management strategies on the farm that don’t cost a lot of money.

EU PiG Innovation Group

The EU PiG Innovation Group (EU PiG) aims to help pig producers find tried-and-tested best practice from fellow producers across Europe. Through an annual EU-wide contest, called the EU PiG Grand Prix, more than 300 producers share their innovative ideas and best practices, which are developed in response to industry-wide challenges, to compete to become one of eight EU PiG ambassadors. Each year, two topics are chosen for each of the project’s four key themes, namely health management, meat quality, animal welfare and precision production. In this and the next seven editions of Pig Progress, one best practice will be discussed.

Natalie Kinsley Freelance journalist