Stockmanship is vital in our industry and achieving or acquiring such has been the focus of this blog. Training and evolving the next generation of stockmen has become my calling.

I want to dedicate this post to my longtime friend and mentor Dr. Paul Armbrecht: This one is for you PA!!

In our present high tech, computerized world of production, time spent simply watching pigs is in steady decline. When challenges occur in a facility, the first order of business might be to check the ventilation controller and any history that computer may contain. Post mortem exams, blood serum samples, and tissue samples sent to a lab for diagnostics and sensitivities often are the norm. These reactions are correct and prudent to properly and effectively address the challenge.

So what about the cause? Digging into causes is the best method of building a stockman. Sittin’ on the bucket in a barn (I am talking 30-minute stints three times daily), and simply watching pigs live, eat, sleep, play and dung can be the best time spent in knowing pigs. Grab your five-gallon plastic bucket, turn in upside down and sit on it in the middle of the barn. Take notes.

Here’s one example I would like to share from my experiences. I was general manager for a large integrator and one of my responsibilities was a 9 x 1,000-head curtain-sided, tunnel-ventilated finishing site. The site was sourced by a single 1,200-sow farrow to feeder pig unit. Every other week, two semi loads of 40-plus-pound pigs were delivered. Split-sex feeding with barrows always on the west side and gilts on the east was practiced. On one of my weekly visits, a barn filled with pigs weighing about 200 lbs. was experiencing some tail biting. In talking with the manager about the issue, he said the problem had started five days prior and he was baffled why it was in one pen only and on the barrow side.

I took a seat on my bucket, near the pen where the tail biting was occurring. Being a normal early summer day with tunnel fans running, I noted a number of pigs eating and other pigs lying down. I was getting a feel for the overall comfort in the barn. A few pigs came up close to me nosing around, including a smaller, somewhat thinner pig came up. I noticed a normal tail and shortly after that, the animal turned and I saw it was a gilt! Here was a lone gilt in a pen of barrows, frustrated with not enough time at the feeder, and this may have been her way of taking out her frustrations! A quick sort to the sick pen for the gilt, shots of penicillin and wound spray to the effected pigs and the problem was solved.

Sittin’ on the bucket can be the single most effective problem solving technique in our industry. Training the best stockmen may include this practice on a monthly basis, to see and feel the changes in the barn as weather seasons change. I highly recommend clocking time sittin’ on the bucket.

Thank you, Dr. Armbrecht, for your friendship and wisdom over the years.

The opinions expressed are those of the author.