Episode 12

Back to Denmark to discuss how to manage Preweaning Mortality with Sanne Baden

In this episode, Sanne Baden talks about her 28 years of experience in the pig industry. Today, Sanne tells us about her “color system” for monitoring pig movement, turning around underperforming farms, and the difficulties of motivating others to join the industry. We get to hear about pre-weaning mortality, using sawdust to effectively dry pigs, and solving the problem of crushing.

“I’m excited for this week’s episode. We’re back in Denmark, and we’re going to be talking to what I’m going to call the fixer manager, Sanne Baden, and she’s going to discuss how she goes into farms throughout her career and fixes their problems. Currently, she’s just started a role at a different production system where she’s focused on pre-weaning mortality and she has a neat trick to share with us.”

“Hello, Sanne. How are you today?”

“I’m good. Thank you. How are you?”

“I’m doing good. Would you mind telling the audience a little bit about who you are and your background and what farm you’re working on?”

[00:01:00]

“Yes, my name is Sanne Baden. I am, I just turned a 46, and I’ve been in the industry for 28 years now this year, and I’ve been doing everything from breeding multiplication, indoor, outdoor, organic. I’ve been working as a consultant. I’ve been working as self-employed. And right now, I am working as a farm manager on a 1200 multiplication, pure breed Yorkshire unit. So, private, I have a son called Jacob and my boyfriend.”

“So well, cool. You’re my version in Denmark. So, we’re talking to somebody that lives in Denmark, and to me, one of the best swine production areas of really pushing out the number of pigs. It’s kind of exciting.”

“Yeah, definitely. Yes, it is. Yeah. I remember when I started working in production, we said two things. We said that the [00:02:00] price of land would never get any higher. And we also said we don’t expect to have more born alive. And I think both happened. Yeah. So, it’s not really what we wished for, but that’s also the challenge of working with the Danish, pig breeding. Yeah.”

“I think everybody I talk to, when it comes to pigs, is that it’s great to have all these pigs, but how do we manage all these pigs? I think you hear that no matter where you are in the world. So, I found it interesting that on LinkedIn, you made a comment about you’ve transitioned to a new farm, so that’s a new challenge in itself. Then, you fixed a problem on pre-weaning mortality. Talk about how you go into a new system, because you’ve worked in a lot of different systems and you consult it. How do you go into a new farm and turn that around? [00:03:00] What kind of mindset do you need to have?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. It always triggered, you know, my drive when I see bad numbers, or if I see bad performing farms, if I go on them. I actually took on a job because I felt sorry for the farmer. And I thought, yeah, there’s something to improve here. So, I took on the job and we really improved the farm. That was in 2007, and we turned it from 23 to 28, but in a very short period. You know, but that was also a very hardcore turnover for him. It’s not because I want to speak too proud of myself or too high of myself, but I have turned around most of the farms, not most, all of the farms that I’ve been working on actually.

“And I don’t know, but I think I’m very detailed, and I am a little devil of details when it comes to especially the farrowing houses, because it requires with the Danish breeds. It really [00:04:00] requires that you are doing things right on time. So anyway, when I get onto a farm, the first thing I do is to ask a lot of questions to the staff working there.

“I want to know what is the biggest challenge. If possible, I would like to see production figures before I visit, which is a great help. And sometimes, if it’s programs that I know, these are programs that I know, I can think a little deeper to find out what is the reasons you know for the different province. Then I try to find out what is the issue.

“I’ve been working for different breeding companies, also as technical service, and most of the times, all of the time, it’s 99% of the time, it’s the basic that is wrong. It’s the attention to every single detail, and it will be everything from a resistant bacterium to environment not being correct for the pigs. And that is, I’m [00:05:00] talking about intersection. So yeah, it’s paying attention to all the details right from the beginning and the requirements of the newborn pig.”

“I would say that’s exactly right. It didn’t matter what level of production I’ve worked in. And most people know me as a researcher, and you have to be a detail-oriented person. But in production, it’s all about the details. Obviously, they’re not doing the details. Is that because of leadership, or is that because of poor training, or do you find a mixture of both?”

“I find a mixture of both, I think. When we first talked, you asked me a question, and I think maybe we talked the first time in in December. You asked me what was the biggest challenge. And I’ve really been spending a lot of time in my car thinking about this. And I think one of my conclusions is, one thing that I find really hard, in pig production nowadays is the staff and [00:06:00] all the respect for all of the guys who are coming up from Eastern Europe. But a lot of them will be here because they don’t have any other option for making a salary than maybe working on a pig farm or a factory. I really miss working with people who really do pig farming because they love it. And that is hard to find. That is really hard to find, and they have a lack of basic knowledge. So, it’s definitely a lack of training, but it’s also a lack of true interest.

“I talked to the production manager today, and we discussed it. What will it take to really, really get people involved? How can I pass on my passion? I think I’ve met a few people, you’d think the last many years, that I’ve been working with, that really said, ‘Thank you, Sanne.  You really make me stay working with the pigs. It’s because of you I’m still here. Because of you, I took more education.’ But it’s very [00:07:00] few. It’s really nice to have those kinds of people, but maybe it’s me who was bad at not encouraging people enough. I don’t know. But motivation is difficult sometimes, I think.”

“I agree. Managing people and pigs and my career; for most of them, it was a job. They need the money. I remember having immigrant labor as well in the US, and it was good pay, but it was all about work for them; how many hours they could work; not working smarter, but harder because they were hourly.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“But even in college, with students, it’s like you can’t replicate passion. There’s no way, it’s hard to get buy-in. And I think that is a challenge we’re going to have. You and I, we do this because we love it, but I’m not in the barns every day and I do miss it dearly. But yeah, it’s hard to [00:08:00] get that.

“So, what things do people need to be trained on to really hone in. Let’s do pre-weaning mortality. What are we lacking in training, or what’s the biggest things on the basics that you’re taking care of?”

“First thing I try to do is give them some theory about what is the requirement for a newborn pig? The little piglet is born without the brown fat, where they only have very little muscles glucose. It requires, you know, the minimum of 35 degrees. Otherwise, it will start getting cold. I will try to explain the physiology behind the pig and the biological needs that the pig is having. And I think, if I’m saying something like ‘It’s coming out from the sow, where it’s maybe 39 degrees – it’s so warm in there – then it’s born out on cold slabs that could be 15 degrees. Can you try to imagine how that would be?’ Then, you’re relating it to them, ‘Okay, [00:09:00] pretend like you’re having a really hot shower, and now you’re standing outside, you’re naked and you’re wet. How cold will you be within five minutes?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, I can understand that.’ So, so trying to take some basic, and I don’t like the human pig relation here, but sometimes it really helps, trying to make them understand what it really means.

“So, what I’ve done – if we’re going too specific into this farm, it will be more or less the same on every farm – I found out where they’re struggling. Then, we’ll be working along with the staff, and then it’s very quick to see what goes wrong. So, I’m doing a lot of observation. Of course, for me now, it’s a lot easier because I’m full-time working on the farm as a manager, and I don’t come out as a consultant just staying in there for a day. I can really observe everything that’s going on and I can follow up on everything that we agreed on, and I know exactly when they don’t do as we agreed. So, that is really beneficial, when you can be there full time.

[00:10:00]

“So, the first thing that I discovered is, a lot of other places, is that they don’t keep track of the movements of the pigs, so they end up moving the same pig many times, because they don’t have a system where they record a skin of pig has been moved. So, that’s one thing I made into a system that they had to use. It’s simple. You use a spray mark color, a different one every day. So, if I see a skinny pig today – it’s Friday – and today we’re using the red spray… If I see something, I think maybe it’s falling a little behind; I want to keep an eye on this. I give it a gray dot on the back. Then, tomorrow, when I come and I can see: ‘oh, no, I need to move this pig.’ It needs to go to a new cell. Then I give it a line along the back, along the spine, and then I put it down to the sow, and everybody can see when they’re looking at this pig, ‘Ah, it was moved on a red day.’ Today, it’s green or blue, so they can count backwards and see, ‘Ah, two days [00:11:00] ago, the stomach is full. It’s fine. We’re going to leave it.’ I think that is one thing that really stops the mortality for pigs dying from hunger is because they don’t constantly move them around.

“And then another thing was the environment for the newborn. We started drying pigs. I’ve been working for PIC also, we done loads of trials with preventing chilling, and that requires that drying pigs. And then we put them on the heat lamp. I want people to go around every half an hour when we have farrowings to check on the farrowings. So, they dry the pigs, and then they put them under the heat lamp. And then we changed all the heat lamps to a heavier light bulb, so our lamps can take 175 watt. And so that’s also a great help.”

“You mentioned chilling trials. What is the best method of drying pigs in your mind, that you’ve found in all your research [00:12:00] and in practical experience?  Towel, powder?”

“No, we use wood chip, like very, very fine wood chip. It’s also called sawdust, isn’t it? Sawdust.”

“So it doesn’t have to be an expensive product or anything.”

“It’s not expensive. No, it comes in, we are a high health unit, so everything comes in bags, plastic bags, and it’s disinfected. So, I think for us, that is a good thing. You can get it where also it’s been treated, so it’s free from bacteria. Yeah, I think a towel is carrying a lot of bacterias if you don’t change it constantly. And I don’t think paper towel is working for me very often. For me, the sawdust is a good thing.”

We would like to take this break to thank our sponsors, The Sunswine Group, NutraSign, Swine Nutrition Management, and Pig Progress. Without their support, [00:13:00] this adventure would not be possible. So now back to our appisode.

“So, we’ve got environment, heat, drying…”

“Yeah, and then spit milking. So, everybody, in the morning when we come in, if you go down to do completely practical, if a sow is finished farrowing, we take all her pigs and we put them in, in Denmark we have like a heated corner, a heated pass with a cover over for the piglets. It’s not an open one. And then we can close them in with a little board. So, we close them in this triangle corner, and then the sow can stand up and drink. And then when she lays down, we take the 10 smallest of them, and then we put them out for half an hour and then we come back and then we change. So that’s the spit milking. Yep.”

“Yep. So, we have a lot of technologies coming out that’s helping prevent crushing, because that would be the next thing. Chilling. Crushing pigs. It raises the sow [00:14:00] up, so she’s higher; it gives an alarm, a shock. We have some that will shock a pig if they sense one underneath her or something. What is your point about technology and crushing, or how do you manage crushing beyond getting them off and warm and full bellies? How do you prevent crushing?”

“I think if you have the environment just right, so the pigs will stick in under the heat lamp rather than under the sow. I think that is the first step. I’ve been on other farms with sky high mortality and lots of crushed pigs. And then you find out that the heating lamp is maybe, maybe it’s 18, or I don’t know, 15 degrees under the heat lamp. Then they will seek to go underneath the sow. And then, I think, if you’re trying your best to prevent starvation, they don’t seek the udder all the time, then they will go and eat. Then their belly will be full, and then they will go and sleep. That is, that will be a normal piglet behavior, if everything runs smoothly.

“Actually on the [00:15:00] farm I’m working, we are having, it is pure breed Yorkshire. They’re supposed to be more lively. And then we have loose… we have freedom farrowing.”

“I was going to say, you don’t get to keep them locked up either. So… and you got the crazy.”

“No, yeah. They’re not crazy. I think it’s depending so much about the people working with them.”

“Oh, no, I know. I love my Yorkshires. Purebreds in general, I always struggled with.” [laughter]

“Yeah. I’ve been working out though, also, with the PIC breeds and Den bred and, yeah. I will say that outside I’ve found some crazy ones…”

“Dangerous ones.”

“…but then they are free to chase you. Yeah, yeah. ‘Stay away from my babies. I’m about to eat you.’”

“I was never allowed out of the back of the truck when I helped my dad. He had this little pitchfork that he’d toss me the babies up, and I’d put them in a little bucket when we [00:16:00] got to processing them and stuff, because he’s like ‘It’s too dangerous for you out on the ground.’ And yeah, I remember those days.

“I remember the one time my brother got chased down. Luckily, my dad was quick enough to get her off him, but it’s dangerous in free motion.”

“Yeah, absolutely. But in here, we actually do have an option to lock them in, and we will lock them in the first day or two, but I think it’s nice to see them walking around free. And I think it’s beneficial for the sow. After farrowing, I think it’s good for her to stand up, walk around, see the piglets, get some blood circulation and, I just, I think it’s so much better. The udders are looking so much better on the sows since we started opening up for the sows earlier. When I came, they didn’t open up the crates before day 10 or 11, and now I open them up a day or two after farrowing if she’s, if everything looks [00:17:00] okay.  And it’s really working.”

“Yeah, I think more people designing farrowing crates and that kind of stuff should have to be pregnant for nine or 10 months and maybe they would understand why it’s probably beneficial. I understood a lot better being pregnant than I did not being pregnant.” [laughter]

“I think if somebody locked me in, when I was giving birth, I don’t know. I would have been crazy. [laughter]

“No, I really like the system. And I think as long as you have healthy sow, as long as she’s fresh, she will stand up, but we cannot avoid… I don’t know. I don’t think it matters what kind of system you have, you’re always going to have a pig that’s going to be laid on, but I would rather have, two extra pig laid on every day than I would have sows locked up, but that’s my opinion.”

“You mentioned, higher preemie mortality, and you’ve gotten that down by basics, and it sounds like, you know, old school [00:18:00] back to the basics.”

“Yes.”

“What is your sow mortality running in Denmark?”

“I think in average on the farm, I actually am not too sure, but I think maybe around 15%, some farms are higher, some are lower.”

“So very similar to the US.”

“But I think, Casey, I think you cannot put our sow mortality back on the breeding, because in Denmark, we are very, very strict about what kind of sows we’re to be sending for the slaughterhouses. If we have any sign of shoulder or of ulcer, we are not allowed to send them. Then you get a fine. So, they are really, really, really strict. That’s why the mortality has gone up after the law has changed. Which makes a lot of sense.”

“It’s just unfortunate, because they can still be used for meat versus a compost pile [00:19:00] in my opinion.”

“Yes, in my opinion, too.”

“I think that’s changed some of our mortality, and we talk about what’s the solution and mortality in sows, and it’s really high. Obviously in the US, we’ve had prolapse issues and spikes in some mortality and lameness, but I think it doesn’t matter what level of production you work in, either. Whether at a multiplier level or with a purebred, it’s getting the basics right.”

“Indoor or outdoor, yes, it is. You would also have bad legs outdoor. You don’t see shoulders also if outside, because of course they’re not laying on their [harshlow], but you would also have bad legs, during wintertime, sows walking on frozen soil. It’s hard. It’s very hard. It’s not pure romantic, you know, having sows outdoor. And yeah, I think it’s true, but that’s how they like it to be.”

“So, I mean, before we go, any other last points on working on premium mortalities or basics that you find missed a [00:20:00] lot on all these farms you’ve worked on and been consultant on?”

“I think it’s, actually, as I said, I call it my dot system. The one with the dot on the line? I think that is, you know, I’ve used it for the last, I don’t know many years, and it’s working everywhere.”

“I love the idea.”

“Yeah, it is. I will put it up on LinkedIn, with I will make a drawing so you can see it. I have pictures of it. Because that is the far best way to prevent pigs being moved too much. And then it’s definitely, the basic as we talked about: keeping them warm, making sure they get the colostrum, and then move the piglet on time. And that is the hardest thing, sometimes I don’t understand how come they cannot see it. ‘Why can’t you see that this pig needs to be moved?’ And that is, but of course it’s, it’s easier when you’ve been in with pigs for [00:21:00] so long.”

“Yeah, a lot of farms, I noticed, like a lot of farms I’ve worked on, one person’s only allowed to do that, because it’s usually the person who has the eye, but with your color system, almost anybody could do it.”

“Yeah. And then again, not. [laughter] I think, I trained and trained and trained people, and you will find people who don’t get it, because they don’t see it. It’s very rare, but it happens. Yeah. But the color system is helpful a lot. And then to make sure your heating lamps are warm and the spit milking.”

“Amen. Yeah, I go in and look at nutrition on a sow and I see a burned-out heat lamp, and I get really upset, because I’m like, I can do everything right up here, but if you’re not getting that right down there and that’s not a priority fix, then… You know?”

“Yeah. It’s every little thing. On this farm actually, it’s another thing I noticed on this farm when I started you know, looking, checking pigs every day. I find [00:22:00] so many pigs with bad legs. And I thought that is very bizarre. Why did they have so much joint infection? And then, one day, I was standing looking through the door, a little window, and I could see one of the girls working. And we were vaccinating the bigger pigs for weaning. We ear-tag them. We give them an extra ear tag, the bigger ear tag, so they have two matching numbers. And then we check tits, and then we vaccinate them. And then I just saw her. She was just throwing the little pigs over in the little wagon we have. I just opened the door and I called, ‘What on earth are you’re doing?’ ‘Oh, do you mean this?’ And I said, ‘That is the first time and the last time I’m going to see this.’ I said, ‘From now on you lift the pics and you put them nicely, gently down.’ And after they changed it, I didn’t treat any bad legs. You know, sometimes you have to…”

“If you don’t see it, you can’t fix it.”

“Yeah. Exactly. But that is the last thing that will cross your mind, if you are a [00:23:00] subconscious consultant, you would never think that somebody would handle pigs that way, because that just wouldn’t go into your head. But that is not very often, you’ll see it so bad. And then of course, you have to check the medication. You have to make sure that the medication you’re using is not resistant. That is another thing that I’ve found very common on farms. And I say, ‘Yeah, but we haven’t used it for long,’ but I think everybody can see how quickly things can mutate. We can just look at the Corona virus and see how quick things can change.”

“Yeah. Well, before we go, this is the point in time I reverse the table and you can ask me anything you want. And if you have any questions.”

“What is the biggest challenge do you see in pigs production? Are you still working a lot with consulting farms?”

“Yeah. So, I’m consulting here and there, and there’s lots of challenges, but I think you hit the nail on the head with employees and finding motivation in getting people in the [00:24:00] barns. And I’m noticing that, people with really a passion for pigs and production aren’t going into management. More so, they want to go on for advanced degrees and things, and we’re really losing those great caretakers and managers. So, I think that’s just, with that constant turnover, you can’t get really good at something. You can’t hone in on a skill or a problem if you don’t have consistency in staff and things. I think it doesn’t matter if you’re on the pig farm, or as I’ve even noticed in the allied industry, that tech service managers jump jobs every couple of years, too. So, it’s fine tuning even how to use products and nutrition and getting things right. I think we lack consistency just the way people are today and how we work.”

“Yeah. Yeah. But we will keep up, keep on fighting.”

“I know. And I’m hoping, [00:25:00] once this vaccine, my husband got the vaccine. I’m hoping to get it next and that’ll give me a pass to come over. And I really want to get back to Denmark.”

“And you have to come and see me.”

“I will. And I hope to have you on the show again, because really great advice. I’m a fan from a distance for sure. And wish you the best of luck.”

We’d like to thank our sponsors, The Sunswine Group, NutraSign, Swine Nutrition Management, and Pig Progress.