What the consultants never tell you... Approaching a problem-solving visit I

’ve got to the stage in my life where I have got to ease up a bit, cut down on the travelling and farm problem-solving visits. And work mainly from home. But fortunately there is still ‘oink in the pen’. Be- side me are cabinets full of hundreds of reports on visiting, and hopefully helping, with a huge variety of pig farm problems which every consultant worth their fee has to send to the client as routine. There is a lot of little-known or unpublished information in them. I propose to give the “Textbook” series a rest for a while and explore a se- ries on my experiences as a pig farm adviser (I dislike the term “consult- ant”). Last month I tried “Dealing with the media” which I’m told has been eagerly read. So here is another one…

How to approach a problem-solving visit?

1. By far the most important action is to ensure the problem is as described in the call-out request. This seems an odd thing to say, doesn’t it? But in

my experience one in five problems is not as described to you, but something else. Should this be the case, time can be wasted in examining dead ends before the likely cause is located.

2. How to bring this to the fore? I always insisted on examining the re- cords before the visit. Then your eyes and what you will be told on-farm

will match up, or not, to certain essential records. If it does not, then you are forewarned that the advice for this type of unit must be very diplo- matically explained in easy-to-understand terms. Especially as the right advice may involve the spending of at least some money. The whole pur- pose of the visit is to persuade the farmer of what needs doing to get things right – or better. The producer who keeps insufficient or the wrong records needs handling with kid

gloves. The owner with no (or poor) records is the one most likely to object to spending money.

3. How to overcome this consumer resistance? Most people want clear explanations of the benefits of change. The “return on extra outlay” (as

described in three of my pig textbooks) provides an easily understand- able description of return/payback. For the less advanced pig producer, I turn it the other way round to show what would happen if the advised actions are not taken – negativity being the most likely thing to worry a person with this level of experience.

4. Always listen to the stockpersons. They are the front-line troops – you’re the behind-the-scenes eyes and ears. They know what is going

on, and every effort must be made to get them into your confidence so they will tell you the truth about what could be the underlying cause of the problem. So chat to them. Look for something they are doing well and tell them so. I see from my visit notes that several times I have been taken quietly aside with a “Look sir, what we find difficult/restricting/ frustrating is…” and sure enough, there the problem lay.

5. People are responsible for many call-out problems. The owners may be adrift on insufficient or wrongly apportioned investment in pig flow;

perhaps they are not training stockpersons properly to make their jobs less onerous and more effective. Managers need to look at housing and overstocking. Ventilation may be inadequately tuned to outside weather changes. There may be a failure to continually measure things – which is so much easier now with modern digital systems. Whenever I am ferret- ing out likely solutions to the problem I continually ask myself, “What are the people on the farm not doing, or doing badly, something essential or important?” It takes courtesy, patience and tact to find these answers and get solutions across.

6. The farm tour. After a run through of the records (if available!), a farm tour is necessary with the owner and his leading stockpersons present.

Well-known for his writing on pigs across 38 years, John Gadd has writ- ten over 2,600 articles and pa- pers. His specialty is the cost-effectiveness of pig technology. Prior to be- coming an inde- pendent writer and consultant, he had a long ca- reer in the British pig industry, from being a stockman to chief pig advisor.

Though if possible, the stockpersons by themselves is better to avoid them ‘holding-back’ when the boss is present. With a smile say, ”I’m bound to ask a lot of questions of you all, but you must- still - give me time to look, observe and make measurements with my equipment, if I need to.” This needs tact, as many clients tend to crowd you and distract you from the concentration you need to detect faults, if any. Very important, too, to praise where praise is due. This helps to persuade them where correc- tions are advisable.

7. When sending that all-important visit report, always – without fail – finish with an econometric statement of what the suggested remedy or

remedies should provide. What are the most likely paybacks? It is always useful to support these claims from past evidence of yours. Those of mine have always been twice my fee, and sometimes 20 to 40 times! A visit report should always have a kick in its tail!

▶PIG PROGRESS | Volume 36, No. 3, 2020 13

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