Are there ideal employee staffing levels for today's pork production units?Changes in the pork industry's structure has forced a re-examination of how many people are needed and how much time is required to care for pigs in different production stages, says Larry Rueff, DVM, Swine Veterinary Services, Greensburg, Ind.

"Size and type of unit, management and quality of labor determine how many people are needed to take care of the pigs," says Rueff. " In addition, an individual's unique work pace plays a role." To determine the proper amount of time required for a job, you need to look at what is required on an hourly basis per week or year and determine the full-time equivalent (FTE) person.

You have to consider things like the employee's regular pig-related procedures – such as daily pig care – as well as whether part of the job involves things like handling feed and/or manure.

"An FTE can vary based on the farm's definition," Rueff says. "I see quite a bit of variation. Some farms have employees work 45 hours a week and some have them work 60 hours, and would come up with the same FTE." In estimating staffing needs, Rueff assumes one FTE is a 45-hour-per-week employee.

Another major issue that is almost impossible to quantify is differences in an individual's ability to perform work in terms of quality and quantity.

"I've seen employees who could get more done in 40 hours than another employee could do in 60 hours, and still maintain quality work." Rueff cites the following examples as guidelines to determine staffing requirements in pork production:

  • Breed-to-wean: For the example, Rueff defines this as a 1,200-sow unit where gilts enter at approximately 250 pounds and pigs are tan off the farm at weaning. In this situation, the employees have no responsibility for feed processing or delivery, other than phoning in orders.

    In addition, manure management – other than typical day-to-day checking of lagoons and/or pits – is out-sourced as well. Rueff says it takes four to 4.5 people working a 45-hour week to do the job properly. This allows for vacation time and having only two people work weekends.

  • Nursery: For this model, Rueff has pigs entering at 12 to 15 pounds, and exiting at about 55 pounds. There are seven turns a year in two 1,000-head rooms.

    An employee would be required to take care of the pigs on a daily basis, checking feeders, inspecting pigs and doing chores for routine care. The employee also would be present when the pigs are unloaded and sorted, and again when the pigs are moved out.

    he employee would be responsible for manure handling, as well as cleaning and disinfecting the facility between groups. All feed is delivered, so there's no feed mixing involved.

    Based on his experience, Rueff says a nursery this size would require an employee to spend 20 to 25 hours per week all year, although there would be heavier work loads when pigs are moved in or when the facility is being cleaned. Fewer hours would be required when pigs have been in the facility for three to four weeks. That's why this scenario best suits a contract production arrangement.

  • Finishers: Here Rueff uses a 1,000-head finisher. This also fits a contract arrangement.

    It requires an employee to provide daily pig care, as well as manure disposal. Pigs enter the facility around 55 pounds and leave at market weight, with about three turns a year. No feed preparation is required. " One hour a day on average would take care of this type of finishing barn," says Rueff.

  • Boar stud: Labor requirements in boar studs are difficult to estimate. "When I start to quiz individuals about how many people work at a boar stud, the number fluctuates and tends to be higher than the owner initially reports. Part-time help is often forgotten or overlooked."

    "My experience is limited to a few boar studs. These have 50 boars each and there is no automatic processing in the units. The studs can produce 1,200 doses of semen per week with two employees basing their FTE on 45 hours a week. This includes all feeding of the boars, semen processing and distribution preparation."

Rueff acknowledges that adequate labor continues to be a significant limiting and challenging aspect in raising hogs today. "However, this is also true in any industry no matter what is being produced. Every industry must deal with this labor issue, and the pork industry is no different."