Bringing lean management to life with pig farmers

Monday, 10 October 2022

Back in 2020, my colleagues and I from the Pork Knowledge Exchange (KE) team started learning about the principles of lean management. We underwent various levels of training and, if I am honest, we didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on the Monitor Farms we’re working with.

We learnt about define, measure, analyse, improve and control (DMAIC), and swiftly moved on to Pareto charts, the 5S, Kaizen, Kanban, 5 Whys, Poka Yoke and many more incomprehensible terms that left us all wondering how we were going to explain and implement this in the pig industry.

Roll forward 18 months and, despite our apprehension, the Monitor Farms have a great understanding of what lean thinking can bring to their businesses and a hunger and desire to want to do more.

Traditionally, we would talk to farmers about improving specific pig key performance indicators (KPIs) and how to do specific routines. Often, they would find it hard to change their routines due to engrained ways of working and, in some cases, there would be a sense of disconnect between the owners and the unit’s team.

However, for the farms involved, implementing the Lean programme has brought their teams and owners together. With facilitation from our KE managers and our lean consultants, Neil Fedden and David Crowfoot, the outcomes and changes in their approach to management have been a pleasure to see and of real benefit to all involved.

Common themes such as grading, growth, small pig management, gilt retention, staff retention and routines are still niggling concerns for most farms. However, using a proven management decision making process throws a different light on how to improve the problem. It breaks the issue down into smaller, bite-sized, achievable improvements.

Image of staff member Andrew Palmer

Andrew Palmer

Knowledge Exchange Relationship Manager (East) - Pork

See full bio

Watching the lightbulb moment in a lean management workshop, when business owners and their teams identify the solutions to problems, makes all those hours of coursework at the beginning of the project worth it.

When we were first introduced to the terms, techniques and tools associated with lean working we struggled to see how we would translate them to pig production. But what surprised and pleased the consultants was the mass of production data our industry collects, since data is a key component of lean management. We just needed to pick the tools and techniques that we knew would work for the industry.

As we continue to work with our Monitor Farms and see the results they are achieving, our thoughts turn to the rest of industry, which is going through a difficult and challenging time. How can we best share the success of the programme?

We will continue to share our learnings and results via articles in print and on our website. We’ll also be inviting the Monitor Farms to share their stories at pig clubs and discussion groups around the country. Our goal is to encourage and inspire more pig farmers to apply the principles of lean management to their businesses and reap the rewards of doing so.