When technology changes the game in your sow barn
From the outside, Pig Hill West looks like most large sow operations in western Iowa. But, when you walk inside the break room, you’ll notice something a little out of the ordinary: three big screens filled with brightly colored numbers, dials and figures.
Performance records and data collection have always been a priority for the Mogler family, but advancements in technology have allowed the newest generation of leaders at Mogler Farms to take their pig operation to new heights.
“In order to drive the performance of the farm, we have to focus on the execution of the work – that it’s timely and we’re getting the right work done,” says Chet Mogler, the 31-year-old general manager of their sow farm, Pig Hill West, in Larchwood, Iowa. “The way we do that is by measuring the right things and putting them on a compelling scoreboard.”
A Game Changer
So, how does a scoreboard make a difference?
“You completely change the game when you start keeping score,” Mogler says.
In December 2016, the family expanded from 900 sows to 4,400. During this time, they implemented new technology, including AP Edge’s ventilation system, Pig Champ performance records, Nedap’s equipment and technology to track and feed sows individually in a group setting and AP Network Master for measuring feed bin weights and feed data.
“I think that technology has allowed the incoming generation that Chet and his cousin Janae represent to take ownership of the facility and make it work for them,” says Tim Kurbis, president of New Standard US Inc., who began working with Chet in 2012 when they began discussing upgrades to the sow operation. “With the updated and current forms of data management and entry, the latest in electronics and design, and the deep understanding of addressing the sow’s social needs that we help them understand, they’re able to feel like they’re truly stepping out and leading the industry forward.”
The new technology allowed the Moglers to move away from entering handwritten data into a computer to scanning bar codes to upload data in real-time on breeding events, moves, vaccinations, pregnancy checks, heat detection and more. Not only has the automated system helped them measure the things that really matter, but it has also decreased errors by tenfold.
With the help of Chet’s uncle, Kent, they created a “scoreboard” to show this data in real-time to help drive engagement and performance of the boots-on-the-ground employee. Color-coded charts, live dials and condition formatting reveal when numbers are out of spec and help highlight concerns or recognize areas of improvement.
“Our employees feel more fulfilled because they see how they are doing on a daily basis,” Mogler says. “They are a crucial part of this process. If they make a mistake, they correct it. They want the best information at their fingertips so they can make more informed decisions as they go about their work.”
Mogler says he took the scorekeeping concept from Franklin Covey’s four disciplines of execution. It has served as a catalyst to take their farm’s performance forward. The four disciplines are 1) focus on the wildly important goal; 2) act on the lead measure; 3) develop a compelling scoreboard; and 4) establish cadence and accountability.
But, how does this relate to a sow farm? Mogler says they focus on several key performance indicators (wildly important goals). By motivating people to execute on the lead measures, such as the number of attended farrowings, they can reduce stillborns because the pigs were warmed up sooner, the sow farrows faster, and the sow gets up and eats quicker. Recording those lead measures and reporting that information with the use of technology allows them to track performance in real time.
“Because it’s live, there’s an automatic cadence of accountability. Everyone knows if it’s not done or the data isn’t in,” Mogler explains. “If there is data missing, it’s obvious when we come in for a break. The reality is these mistakes just don’t happen anymore.”
The scoreboards work well in grow-finish, too. Mogler says every time he goes into the barn, he will find some things he can encourage the caretaker to think about or try something differently.
“I don’t track those improvements needed specifically – I track how many times we get to the barn. I know that getting to the barn results in an opportunity for improvement,” Mogler says.
It’s important to track things caretakers can affect, he adds. For example, if a farm gets a sick group of pigs delivered to them, they can’t affect certain things so they measure the things they can actually impact. Are they adhering to biosecurity standards? Are they getting daily treatments done properly?
“We’re concerned about mortality and growth rate, but we know if our team accomplishes the things they can affect or execute on a daily basis, the resulting measure is that performance will improve,” he says.
The scoreboards help motivate employees, says Reece Bierman, production manager at Pig Hill West.
“Four people are in charge of our 16 farrowing rooms – one person for four rooms,” Bierman explains. “The scoreboards allow them to see sow performance, mortality rates, etc. Not only do they see how they are performing but so does everyone else. We’ve created a culture that if someone isn’t doing their job or performing well, we can call them out on it.”
Technology improves animal care
Technology auto-calculates a lot of helpful information to improve the performance of an operation, but it’s no replacement for a great workforce in the barn, Mogler says. “You can’t automate your way out of animal husbandry. But you can automate work to free up time so you can do a better job at animal husbandry,” he says. This is one of the things that makes Chet a unique leader, Kurbis points out.
“Chet is one of the few guys I know who is gifted with an innate understanding of mechanics and equipment while also having a strong stockmanship attitude,” Kurbis says. “You rarely see both of those traits in one person.”
Chet describes data as the “ditches on the road.” The data measures and shows overall performance. Then, on an individual basis, problems can be discovered quickly and dealt with immediately.
“The technology alerts us, ‘Hey we got a problem here, this is out of spec,’” he says.
That’s one of the reasons he was drawn to a system to monitor individual sow feed intake within a group setting.
“We’re able to optimize body condition, intake and deal with issues of sows on an individual basis within a large 300-head pen. Even though we moved to group housing for sows, we still need all that input. Nedap has helped us maintain individual performance and individual behavior monitoring within a large group. Despite taking them out of stalls, we still have all the information we need on an individual basis,” Mogler says.
The team walks pens and make general observations daily, but they use the technology to their advantage. The system creates lists of animals that might be feeling sick, or points out if a sow didn’t eat. Bierman says it helps them find that sow sooner, get her up and see how she is doing and what care she needs.
“We’re not going to go backward on individuality by going to large group housing with Nedap. In fact, we think in the future we will actually be able to keep track of them better, with new technology coming down the line such as the individual body weight system, thermal scanning and more,” Mogler adds.
This is one of the things that makes Chet a unique leader, Kurbis points out.
People Matter Most
Beside the scoreboard in the break room, a DISC behavior assessment chart hangs on the wall with every employee noted in one of the personality quadrants. Personality assessments are a part of their work culture because understanding people is crucial to their team’s success.
“Our motto is ‘People matter. Pigs are our passion,’” Mogler says. “We want to survive in this crazy world of agriculture, to be able to provide opportunities for our future family as well as people within our community. And that’s not necessarily about getting bigger, it’s about being efficient and having passion for what we do.”
Part of that efficiency starts with finding the right positions for people on their team. The personality assessments not only help people better understand themselves and what drives them, but it also helps employees uncover their passions.
As a manager, Bierman says the assessments also help the teams communicate and avoid conflict. For example, he knows that his boss is a D (dominant) and wants to get straight to the results and isn’t as worried about the process.
Bierman says one of the reasons he enjoys his job so much at Pig Hill is that he knows he’s not a number.
“They aren’t so big that the higher ups don’t know who you are,” Bierman says. “I know if my car breaks down on my way to work, Chet will come pick me up. I can count on them for stuff outside of work, too. They bend over backward for people. And we all know that.”
Mogler is a straight shooter, Bierman says. He’s honest and expects others to be, too. Those characteristics, along with the company’s core values of team, trust, attitude and results, have established a good culture at Pig Hill.
Mogler says the best advice he learned years ago at a conference is that you never arrive when it comes to culture.
“Culture is like a rubber band,” he explains. “You have to keep it stretched the whole time. As soon as you let go, it’s going to go back to normal and normal is not good. If you want to have a great culture, it’s something you have to work on all the time. It is not a destination; it is a journey.”
He says that applies to their entire pig operation and their use of technology, too. “If you think you’ve arrived, you’re going to start going backward pretty soon,” he says.Find your ESF solution ›