Industry Partners

Prairie Swine Centre is an affiliate of the University of Saskatchewan

Prairie Swine Centre is grateful for the assistance of the George Morris Centre in developing the economics portion of Pork Insight.

Financial support for the Enterprise Model Project and Pork Insight has been provided by:

Author(s): Western Hog Journal - Don McDermid, Pfizer Animal Health
Publication Date: July 12, 2011
Reference: Spring 2008


 Key learnings from Walking the Pens

If you are a regular reader of Western Hog Journal, you likely saw the Fall 2007 and Winter 2008 articles based on Pfizer Animal Health’s producer education program, Walking the Pens.  Launched in 2007, the program is designed to help producers identify and treat individual pigs.  It is one way that Pfizer supports the Canadian hog industry. As a reminder, in the first article we looked at how to start pigs properly.  In the second, we reviewed common illnesses and their treatments and how to identify sick pigs quickly and efficiently.

However, having knowledge is not enough to ensure that your pigs are healthy. Successful operation of any nursery or grow-finish operation depends on a myriad of factors – quality and health of the stock, quality of the rations, facilities, weather, staff – the list seems endless.  Critical to many of these is one overriding factor: the performance of the people responsible for day-to-day operations.  Every member of your team must be clear about their responsibilities and learn to recognize or, even better, anticipate problems.    

In this article we will examine successful methods for sharing hog health knowledge with employees and how Walking the Pens has helped Canadian farmers in their operations. We have held over 100 training sessions over the past year.  Attendees have had the opportunity to strengthen their operation by sharing the information they have gained through the sessions with others working in their barn.

Barn walk-through 

Whether introducing new employees to the barn, or reviewing the basics with your peers, consider the walk-through as the basic tool and start with a review of the barn records. Accuracy, timeliness and good record keeping are very important, and tying the records’ use to specific decisions reinforces their importance.

Reviewing the recent diagnostic history of the sow herd or herds and any other related pig flows at the barn gives employees context for current illnesses.  Previous group closeouts and current mortality or morbidity records are also helpful.  When reviewing these records look for consistent patterns.  Death loss and sickness occurring in the first two weeks post entry into grow-finish is usually due to either high infection pressure from the sow herd, such as with PRRS, or an inability to start pigs well.  Death loss and sickness reoccurring three to eight weeks post entry is typically due to disease.

The next step is the walk-through itself. Think about and talk to employees about the basic equipment they should carry on each visit:

  • a marker to identify pigs needing treatment or evaluation
  • medicines that are regularly administered
  • a notebook or clipboard to record treatments, observations or needed repairs

 Once the barn walk-through is complete, review all of the teachable moments.  For new employees, consider creating a pocket-sized, laminated reference card to outline the goals for each turn.


Hog health maintenance

 Professionals such as engineers, nutritionists, veterinarians, and animal handlers can all add to the successful education of employees. For example, an engineer has the equipment and experience to troubleshoot the ventilation within a barn and to develop standard operating procedures to properly manage the barn environment.  A nutritionist will focus on diet budgeting, diet quality, growth performance, feed particle size and feed wastage.

If you have concerns about the health of your herd, don’t hesitate to get your veterinarian involved: he or she can help you troubleshoot problems and involve other consultants if necessary.

Exposing employees to these experts and giving them a chance to be part of the discussion can help them anticipate issues and know when and who to ask for advice.

Barn management

 Each barn should have a sheet that records key events and information such as entry date, weight, source, lot number, mortality, treatments, removals, feed budgeting, temperatures and other comments. Comments should include information such as quality of the pigs at entry, response to treatment or environmental challenges such as fans not being operational. This information can be kept as individual records by topic or consolidated on one form.

Similarly, environmental data and financial information should also be recorded and actively managed.  These records can help to identify the early onset of a health challenge, and can be reviewed with your veterinarian in troubleshooting problems.

Remember, the initial education phase is only the first part of developing better husbandry skills.

Proper husbandry skills need to be developed/taught/reinforced throughout the 22 to 26 weeks it takes for pigs to get to market.  By the time new employees have loaded 260 pound pigs onto a truck, they may have forgotten the skills it takes to get a 10 pound pig started on concrete slats.  To be successful, the system has to have regular, ongoing education.

As one Walking the Pens participant noted, the program’s goal “is to perfect what you’re doing, and improve on what you aren’t paying attention to…A lot of the materials, you have done before, but this program brought it all back to reality.”


 It is important for all of us all to recognize that the learning process never ends. The commitment to ongoing education is essential to the success of your operation.

You are the people that see the pigs day in, day out. This is why it is important for all employees to be well versed in, and focused on, sick pig identification. At the same time, concern about the overuse of antibiotics and maximum residue limits or tissue tolerances in food animals has increased the need to be selective in the administration of treatments, placing more importance on individual, rather than blanket treatment. 

The industry is shifting emphasis from group to individual pig treatment, and Pfizer stands ready with health protocols and products to aid in this transition. Our hope is that the practices and procedures outlined in Walking the Pens will assist you to produce healthy, high-quality pigs and contribute to your success and profitability. And, if you are interested in participating in a Walking the Pens session but haven’t had a chance yet, please contact your veterinarian for more information.

Dr. Don McDermid is Manager of Veterinary Services in the Swine Group at Pfizer Animal Health.

 After training new employees, a close look at the following indicators will provide clues to the areas that may need to be addressed through additional training and education:

  • Record keeping – Are employees making notes as needed? Do the treatment marks on pigs match the actual records?
  • Pig behaviour – Are pigs overly scared of employees? If so, not enough time is being spent in and around the pens evaluating pigs’ condition.
  • Inventory – Are products being used at the expected rate?
  • Feeders and waterers – Are they adjusted properly?
  • Syringe care – Have they been cleaned and stored correctly?


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