The ultimate success of a swine farm revolves around the ability to create employees on a team who are emotionally engaged, thinking with their minds and working industriously with their hands to provide quality animal care. Unfortunately, according to some studies, only about 25% of people in the American workforce actually cares or thinks about the work they are performing on a daily basis.

While the statistics may vary, there is no question that the level of employee engagement on some farms is not as high as it is on others. In part, this explains why production on one farm outperforms another with similar genetics, health status, facilities and management structure.

Commonly referred to as the “people equation,” it is my opinion that a herd’s swine veterinarian is uniquely positioned to address this challenge in modern swine production systems. Following are 10 reasons for my belief:

Awareness: Veterinarians, by nature and training, realize how vital it is for people to actually think about the task they are performing and the impact it has on an animal’s care and well-being. It is impossible to get good results working from standard operating procedures (SOPs) or protocols if employees are not thinking about how the SOPs apply to the situations they face on a daily basis. While training is important, the worker’s emotional engagement is equally so.

Outside observer: The veterinarian is an independent contractor who often visits a farm regularly, but infrequently (e.g. monthly, quarterly). A herd veterinarian is in a unique position to win the trust of workers, perhaps hear comments that managers/owners will not hear, and gather information that helps him/her understand why the workforce is not engaged.

Access to all levels of production: Often, a veterinarian has access to not only barn workers and supervisory staff, but also to senior management personnel. This gives the veterinarian a unique perspective from which to evaluate concerns at all levels. 

Positive position: Due to their education and position, most employees hold the veterinarian in high regard until he/she is proven otherwise. As a result, any suggestions made in the area of employee engagement are generally taken seriously.

Mastery: It is a basic human truth that everyone wants to be good at something, and the circumstances are no different on pig farms. The veterinarian, having gained mastery in his/her field, possesses unique information and resources that can be passed on to employees. A veterinarian should be able to help almost any employee get better. 

Autonomy: Most employees do not like to be micromanaged. A veterinarian can serve as an ambassador between supervisors and employees, making sure that both parties understand where protocols are inflexible and where they are not. Inflexible “busy work” is a sure way to discourage employees.

Achievement: All employees also want their team to be successful. Veterinarians have unique information to help facilitate each team’s desire for excellence.

Appreciation: As a veterinarian conducts a walk-through, he/she is in a unique position to show appreciation to employees. The value of learning each employee’s name and expressing appreciation for his/her efforts is immeasurable. Employees who know their work is noticed and valued will be actively engaged in their work.

Cohesion: Successful work groups develop team unity. Veterinarians are often in a position to participate in team recognition, which adds to team members’ sense of belonging. 

Purpose: Every employee wants to know that his/her work contributes to the big picture. Veterinarians are in a unique position to connect the dots between the different jobs on the farm, reinforcing how each team member contributes to the ultimate goal of healthy pigs. When the importance and purpose of a job is communicated clearly by a person held in high esteem, it can be a very powerful motivator. 

The success of a swine farm ultimately depends on employee engagement, and veterinarians are uniquely positioned to foster a culture of engagement on the farms they serve.