The flight from records

Maybe it’s a bit of an emotive headline, but there’s been some fuss about this recently, writes John Gadd. I see farmers still keeping a tab on where pigs are on the farm and at what stage they’re at, but some have given up bothering to record physical performance, which of course is unwise.

For the past 18 months or so, when talking to producers, I’ve been keeping an eye on their reasons for dropping record keeping. At the risk of upsetting some of thosee producers who have given up (and who admittedly didn’t seem to be doing too badly without them) and those clever people who market computer recording systems, here’s the list:

Inputting too onerous¬† “Time-consuming” – Part of this trend could come from the front-end staff being work-overloaded. Tail chasing is all too common in these days of intensivism.

Computerised records to cumbersome “Off-putting” – I tend to agree. Some computerised records I have to work with are too comprehensive and need simplifying, to perhaps 10 to 15 essential items on which decisions can be taken. That’s all most people need, apart from the most dedicated.

Too many columns of figures “They have been a pain to disentangle, compare and act on” – I wholeheartedly agree. These days almost every record should be graphical. Especially using the Cusum graph principle that I’ll demonstrate next time. Surveys I have carried out at training courses show how graphs encouraged comprehension in four groups totalling 120 section heads/senior stockpersons. About 54% wer able to get correct answers from columns of figures, while 84% got them right from exactly the same information presented in graphical form.

Unconvinced “Don’t trust them” – Interesting! When I went into the reasons for this uncertainty, they often seemed to come from figures that were uncomfortable/below expectation. One advantage of the Cusum graph method of recording is that below-expectation results are recorded as they develop, so can be rectified before they became demoralising.

My own impression is that we’ve got into a position where there’s over-dependence on physical performance – so beloved of the researcher and academic. Top physical performance doesn’t necessarily mean sufficient profit. Exactly why I have, for the past 25 years promoted my “new terminology” list (MTF; REO; AMF; AIV; SPL and so on) which, while maintaining the physical performance attributes we know so well of FCR; ADG; % Mortality; Cost kg lwt gain; pigs/sow/year, these new interpretations also incorporate econometric measurement of cost-effectiveness. Much more useful in taking decisions.

Also, “performance against target” is underused. Performance –¬†physical or economic – on it’s own means nothing if you’re not comparing it to anything. This is why the Cusum concept is so good – it does exactly that.

And finally, there’s underuse of the “what-if” facility. We all now have computers, which easily handle the inputs from this concept, and it should be used more. Anyway it makes recording more interesting. We’ve seen it used when renewing slaughter pig contracts and in nutrition, but rarely elsewhere, even though so many options and choices exist in commercial pig production these days.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)