The decisions managers and stockmen make, and interventions they carry out in response to what production statistics tell them, is pivotal to the success or failure of a pig business. Only people can interpret the data, apply it practically and judge the outcome.
The PIVIT project was set up to establish if IT technology and web-based communication could simplify data recording and analysis on pig farms and provide producers with a means of improving the management and efficiency of the processes they use to raise pigs. It also aimed to find out what training, knowledge transfer and technical support was required to get producers up to speed, linked to the internet and confident enough to use emerging IT tools and data processing systems. That’s quite an undertaking, but PIVIT has satisfied these objectives and proved extremely worthwhile for project partners and wider industry.
All PIVIT farms have found that IT and web-based communication offer tremendous potential to improve and develop the quality control of their pig production processes. The project has also revealed how this technology can shape management and enhance stockmanship at every level. Such systems literally provide stockmen and managers with a constant “eye on the sty”, enabling accurate round-the-clock observations and an assurance that they can, and will, be alerted to subtle changes and trends if, and when, they occur.
The degree of detail gathered by continual data collection systems is only viable using automatic monitoring. This amount of information could not be generated physically or economically within day-to-day management routines.
“Pigs may be checked frequently, but during the intervals between each observation things can and do occur and it’s often the ongoing undetected subtleties that can have the most impact on the overall performance of a batch,” project co-ordinator Hugh Crabtree explains.
Also, automated and remote recording/monitoring involves minimal disturbance of the pigs, is stress free and doesn’t add to pressured labour resources. PIVIT has proved the benefits are considerable in terms of production efficiency, cost savings and team motivation. Being able to remotely keep tabs on what’s going on round the clock has massive advantages and all the partner farms say it actually complements stockmanship.
“The PIVIT farms have learned more about their production systems, how they work and the enormous influence and value their staff have within the whole production process during this project,” Mr Crabtree says. “It’s benefited communication and motivated their production teams in ways that were not expected. The results have been quite astounding for both pig performance and business aspirations.”
Initially farm staff were a little reticent about this “big brother” concept, and in most cases the first data collected and analysed did reveal anomalies and inefficiencies that were attributable to poor management on the part of the stockmen/managers in charge. However, this aside, once the project was underway these initial reservations disappeared and staff began to see the real benefits and get fired up about what the data was telling them.
“Monitoring is an incredible management tool, it supports stockmanship, but finding the starting gate did create some negativity at first,” Mr Crabtree adds. “But once things began to move forward, the results brought a change in attitude and generating enthusiasm for further progress.”
The data clearly demonstrated how staff interaction/interventions influenced the production process and how their decisions impact on the quality of that process. How operators manage inputs and react to any change and/or deviation has resonance across the whole production system, both physically and economically.
“Unit staff soon realise that monitoring performance using continuous data streams can help them to fine tune their management, evaluate their routines and develop skills and ideas that can improve outcomes,” Mr Crabtree says. “It’s a constant process, where management is reacting immediately to what is actually happening, hour-to-hour, day-to-day. Producers no longer have to wait until a batch is finished to analyse performance and identify where improvements may be possible.
“Monitoring real time data is simple to interpret, can be accessed by everyone involved in the system and offers an opportunity to track productivity while it’s happening.”
A notable revelation from a recent PIVIT meeting was that many stockmen and managers had initially felt that data recording and analysis at this level would be highly technical and “over their heads”. However, this has been found to have not been the case. Most found that by working together, and sharing their experiences with other PIVIT partner teams, they were able to learn huge amounts about their own production systems.
By comparing what they were seeing ‘on the ground ‘ with what the Barn Report charts were reporting enabled individual PIVIT farms to determine how improvements could be made. Then by discussing what they had learned with other like-minded businesses, they could further their knowledge and apply new thinking and ideas to other areas of their business.
The PIVIT farms all agree that the collaborative side of the project and the ‘cross-fostering’ of ideas has proved as worthwhile as the technical advances each businesses has made in terms of data recording, IT and technical skills.
The data generated and information gleaned by all parties, which has been shared and discussed throughout the project, has been extremely valuable and this collaborative-ethos will continue beyond the project’s completion.
More information on the PIVIT Project, including a white paper with extended versions of all the articles in this series, is available from Farmex.