Pig production records programs launched in the '80s provide historical data. Several newer efforts target "in process" performance evaluations.

Closeout records provide a valuable, historical perspective for making production decisions. These days, however, producers need more immediate feedback to deal with problems as they occur.

To that end, a few groups are developing simple ways to make effective use of ongoing information to provide more timely, decision-making reports on a weekly or monthly basis.

Beyond Historical Records Historical records systems like PigCHAMP provide a solid means of reviewing many important production parameters, says Tim Klein, DVM, South Central Vet Associates, Wells, MN. But they certainly don't provide for any ongoing analysis or fine-tuning.

"From a producer's standpoint, the question is, `When do I make a decision? When do I intervene?' Or, `How do I tell when something is happening that is really not out of the ordinary so that I shouldn't intervene?'" he says.

"Whether a producer has four rooms of pigs or 20 barns of pigs, the question each morning is `Where do I concentrate my time. Where are the red flags?'" says Klein.

Sometimes producers make knee-jerk reactions when performance is out of whack. If he/she is relying on normal closeout records to make those decisions, the records may mislead.

Records should help us make the right decisions and prioritize what to address first, says Klein.

Weekly Reports The traditional PigCHAMP records program focuses on the breeding herd. Not much has been done in the area of grow-finish. Unlike breeding, grow-finish variables are difficult to measure. For example, it is difficult to measure daily feed intake or daily growth rate.

Klein is using new PigCHAMP version 4.0 to provide "real-time" records and answers about how the current group of grow-finish pigs are doing. Producers like Joe Kluender, Waldorf, MN, submit feed deliveries received on a weekly basis. "In fact, we have a number of clients who are submitting weekly grow-finish records to track feed disappearance, inventory changes, mortality, pig movements and sales," says Klein.

The PigCHAMP program allows us to enter that data, move it into an Excel spreadsheet and provide a continuous feed intake curve to producers, states Klein. Feed intake is graphed using a solid line that projects feed consumption based on an average of previous groups. A squiggly line represents actual consumption based on the tons of feed delivered.

Klein says the program is really user-friendly. Producers simply send in their feed slips - the number of tons of feed delivered each week. That information is plugged into an Excel spreadsheet, which graphs out the two feed lines.

These sheets quickly alerted Kluender of a problem. He is part-owner of a sow farm managed by Klein's veterinary clinic.

Pigs are weaned at 16-18 days of age. Groups move to Kluender's nurseries, where they stay for eight to nine weeks or until they reach about 65 lb. From there they go to contract finishers to be fed to 260 lb.

The feed graphs showed one finisher had poor growth. His investigation found the contract grower had become lax about reducing room temperatures as the pigs grew. It was easy to fix. But, if the graph hadn't made it clear there was a consumption problem, the red flag would not have been raised.

Klein emphasizes this real-time records approach is not precise. But, it shows trends and provides enough information to act quickly to head off a problem. It becomes a central issue for producers like Kluender who need a quick, independent means to audit contract sites.

Statistical Process Control Another shortcoming is that sometimes the numbers don't tell the whole story, says Klein. That's where statistical process control (SPC) comes into play.

Normally, if we see a trend or a big percentage change, our mind tells us we need to react to that change. SPC sorts all that out and tells us that maybe we don't need to react to that change. We are looking for unusual variation, the real key to whether we should act on a change, he explains.

For example, pigs born alive may average 10 on two farms. Even though both have the same average, on one farm that figure may not vary much. But on the other, it may vary a lot. SPC helps us to understand when variation or deviation from the norm represents a real change in the system. That's the call for action, says Klein.

Deviation is plotted on an SPC chart. For Klein, SPC charts provide another key indicator for intervention in the sow farms managed by the clinic. They manage 20,000 sows in southern Minnesota for producer owners.

The SPC reports are submitted for analysis weekly to the University of Minnesota. Coordinator Bob Morrison, DVM, says college students do the SPC charting for Klein's clinic and one other Minnesota veterinary clinic.

"What SPC does, in my mind, is take columns of numbers and put them into charts so that you can see trends easier. It tries to give you some level of probability, based on your historical numbers, whether what you are seeing is a real production change or a random change," says Morrison.

Scott Burroughs of Danbred USA, Dorchester, NE, says their breeding stock company has used SPC charts since November 1998. They are used for monitoring health, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, swine influenza virus and Mycoplasmal pneumonia in growing gilts.

"We take a statistical serological sample out of those gilt replacement barns each month, profile it and plot it out," he explains. "It is a good process for knowing what is real and what is just `noise' in the system."

Burroughs says it is used regularly for customers who want to know the health track record of the company's gilts. They can look at monthly charts profiling the health status.

The program is also used to monitor boar stud semen production and other reproductive factors in the production system.

The serology and performance work for SPC are coordinated through Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc.

SPC is credited for clarifying the impact of vaccination programs and cleanup programs where needed.

For additional information on SPC, contact Morrison at (612) 625-9276 or e-mail rmorrison@mes.umn.edu.

Reproductive Focus A third records focus at Klein's clinic is on reproduction. A couple of clients have installed computers on their sow farms. Farm personnel enter data daily into an Excel spreadsheet, which automatically provides a breeding and farrowing summary. That information is e-mailed to Klein daily. He simply checks e-mails and screens the data for problems.

"It has helped increase farm staff education, decrease telephone time and expense, and it's been beneficial for real-time management on the farm," says Klein.

Two swine records companies are adding programs to give producers more ways to monitor current production performance.

The PigCHAMP 4.0 program is a new series that offers a number of changes from the historical records approach.

"We can look at `in-process' results to find out what's going on with grow-finish groups," reports Glenn Leighty, vice president, sales. "The new records program allows a producer to make in-process adjustments to production." This process started in the PigCHAMP 3.0 series. The 4.0 series also will evolve to look at other areas of production that can be tweaked, says Leighty.

PigWIN is a more recent entry into the swine computer records business, originated in New Zealand. Will Marsh owns Farmwise Systems, Little Canada, MN, distributor of PigWIN programs in the U.S. and Canada.

PigWIN's PigGAIN is a new computer program that provides continuous monitoring of grow-finish performance using growth curves based on typical farm weights. It monitors current performance against growth curves built using historical data from your own operation. Customized graphs provide interpretation of data, showing margin over feed costs. Alternative marketing options are compared using packer matrices. PigWIN is designed for weaned pigs to market weight, says Marsh.

Also new are personal digital assistants that can be used with PigWIN to record growth and reproductive data pen-side, which can be synchronized for transfer to the main computer.

For more information, contact PigCHAMP, Eagan, MN, at (952) 997-3131, or contact Farmwise Systems at (651) 765-8240.