“An assessment is a teaching tool that allows you to evaluate processes going on at a specific point in time on the farm,” says PQA Plus® Advisor Dr. Mitch Michalak of Ohio. Site assessments provide unique opportunities for Advisors to reinforce the Good Production Practices of PQA Plus and have meaningful discussions that can lead to increased efficiencies and improved animal welfare on their operations. “In every assessment, someone learns something, if they’re done well,” she says. “You’re not there to discipline, but to find teachable moments and help them improve the way they do things.” But many producers still have reservations about site assessments. Read more to find ways Advisors can help ease the process and ensure the experience is valuable for the producer and Advisor. 

Michalak suggests that a successful site assessment begins before she arrives onsite. “I always make sure the people involved know what paperwork they need to have available for me,” she said. “That is one of the biggest timesavers on the assessment, is to be prepared for the assessment before the Advisor arrives.” It is especially important if your producer is not already writing down daily observations, that you encourage them to do so at least one month in advance. Michalak typically checks with producers within a week of the assessment as well. “If they do not have the appropriate paperwork, I will delay the assessment rather than go with no paperwork that results in ‘incompliant’ checkmarks.”

As an Advisor, your preparation also plays a significant role in the success of the assessment. In addition to completing paperwork in advance, Michalak also asks the owner to provide data regarding the population of each barn, how the pigs are divided up, and the age of the pigs. “When I arrive on the farm, I have already calculated how many animals I’m going to evaluate and selected pen numbers to evaluate prior to arriving in the barn to ensure it is random.”

Once the details are set in place, Michalak takes these common items to the site assessment:

  • Paper cups, disposable tools to measure water flow - be sure to know how many ounces the cups hold
  • Disposable writing surface, such as a magazine, and pens, or arrange for the producer to provide an on-farm clipboard
  • Copies of assessment pages, to keep the actual assessment book out of the barns and prevent cross-contamination

Michalak suggests starting in the producer’s office to first discuss each area. “This time is important for more than ensuring they are compliant,” she says. For example, rather than checking that an Emergency Action Plan is in place, Michalak will ask questions to understand how it is implemented. Michalak frequently discusses euthanasia timeliness, methods, and backup plans with her producers. While some producers resist daily documentation, Michalak uses the time to coach their common practices. “This isn’t a regulation,” she’ll tell them. “This is you documenting that you do things correctly.”

When Michalak begins the assessment of the property, she always offers producers the option to follow or go about their work. “Some like real-time feedback, while others like the summary,” she said. She will also often leave ammonia tubes with the farm and call back to get readings in 8 to 10 hours. She does prefer that field service staff accompany her to assess contract finishing barns. “They learn from assessment, and you as a veterinarian get to see the pig flow at various ages and can put together a lot of information about pig flow, pig quality, philosophies of contract finishers and field service personnel,” she said. “It’s just a great experience.”

Once the assessment is complete, Michalak always tries to summarize what she found in three to five key points, at most. She also identifies action items and determines when she might come back to follow up. “It’s always important that when you ask someone to do something new, they understand there is a purpose in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” she said. After discussing the feedback with the owner, she takes the paper copy with her and later enters it into the PQA Plus website. 

“We need to do this once a year,” Michalak said. “Even if we don’t complete a full site assessment each year, it is valuable to evaluate each barn in a health mode, rather than a preventative mode.”  For more information about PQA Plus site assessments, visit  www.pork.org.