Information about labor needs on large-scale swine production units

The cost of labor continues to be a large factor in overall production costs on swine farms.

Throughout the years, the pork industry has experienced many changes in the management of pig production facilities. When farms were smaller, the main labor force was supplied by the farmer and their family who had a vested interest in the production output of the farm. As the size of farms grew, so did the labor needs. Today, in order to have a successful large-scale pork production unit, producers must be able to manage people as well as pigs and labor continues to be one of the largest costs of production on these farms. As farms increase in size and specialization, there is a comparable increase in the need for a skilled labor force.

In his “Wages and Benefits for Farm Employees” report, extension economist, William Edwards (2006) concluded that as the yearly gross sales of a farm increases from under $250,000 to more than $2,000,000, the number of full time employees also increases from 1.8 to 9.5. A highly motivated, productive work force is an asset that a farm can work toward and, with proper employee training and management, the cost of labor in the overall production scheme can be decreased. A consistent goal of farm owners and managers is to reach that balance of enough employees to complete the daily tasks without over or under staffing the farm.

Some factors that may influence the degree of staffing and specialization on your production unit include:

  • Farms with a higher degree of automation will require fewer employees to complete the tasks. For example boar robots and automatic sow feeders are replacing employees on some farms.
  • The scope of responsibilities influences the number of employees assigned to each farm. Farms that perform regular maintenance and repairs require a larger staff than farms that depend on service personnel for repairs.
  • Work schedules vary. Farms with schedules that allow employees to work every third weekend will require more employees than farms where employees work every other weekend.
  • The scheduled number of hours per week influences the number of employees. If the farm targets 45 hours per week it will require a larger staff than a farm that targets 50 hours per week.
  • Naturally, farms with a high annual labor turnover have a staff with less experience and therefore are less efficient in completing the daily tasks. These farms require more employees than farms with a stable work force.
  • Daily work schedules help determine how efficient the farm’s employees are at completing their daily tasks. Farms that are well organized with employees that are trained in prioritizing their work will require fewer total employees.

More information on staffing guidelines and expectations can be found in the Winter 2007 issue of the MSU Pork Quarterly.

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