When you are training gilts for ESF pens, you need a certain type of personality working with those girls. But it may not be the type of personality you expect.
Training gilts for ESF pens shouldn't even really be called training when you're talking about using Nedap forward exit pens. After all, gilts' natural curiosity allows them to train themselves. Working with pigs in a learning scenario is much harder on us, the trainers, than on them, and not because the work is hard, but because it is tedious and requires a lot of patience. It takes a special person with a unique personality type to do the job well. So when choosing your next gilt trainer, you may want to reconsider your hiring or selection process.
A Calm Gilt is a Learning Gilt
The number one goal in gilt training is to get the girls familiar and comfortable with the ESF equipment they will see in the group gestation pens. Unlike most aspects of hog production today, this process is not about speed and efficiency. If you rush a gilt and force her into the feed station, she is going to get worked up and start panicking. When she starts panicking, she won't be willing to try new things and she'll associate those negative feelings with the feed station.
Pigs are curious animals and if you let them, they will train themselves with little guidance. When they are calm, they will explore the feed station themselves and learn the ins and outs of the entire system. They won't be overwhelmed from being forced into something they don't want to do, so they'll have the mental capacity to learn new things.
The Passive Gilt Trainer
Normally when you are choosing which staff should take on an important barn task, you are looking for the hardest workers that show up on time and are always ready to take on the next task. When choosing your gilt trainer, our experience shows you may need to reverse this thinking. Your gilt trainer should be passive and calm, and they may even work at a snail's pace. Surprisingly, someone with this personality type will have the gilts trained quicker than the hardest worker in your barn, or maybe even the six hardest workers!
Hear what current loose housing barn manager Steve Horton had to say about his gilt trainers' personality and demeanor at the Loose Housing Discussion Panel at this year's World Pork Expo.
Just as Steve mentioned, a person with a calm personality will be able to slowly guide the animals into the feed station without getting them riled up. This person naturally earns the trust of each animal because he or she is patient and doesn't take any threatening or forceful actions. Trainers do occasionally have to guide some of the animals into the feeder, but with a calm personality showing them the way they go willingly. Some producers even refer to their trainer as their "pig whisperer" because they seem to find a way to get the girls to do things nobody else can!
Finding the Right Person for the Job
It may be out of your comfort zone to hire someone who is going to occasionally show up late and who might not be able to easily kick it into high gear, but that is okay for this position. In fact, you may already have a qualified candidate currently on your team.
Look for the staff person who also seems to have a deeper connection with the animals. This person may even get a little distracted from their work and spend "too much" time petting or talking to the animals; the most effective gilt trainers should, in a way, view the animals as his or her pets.
Remember, don't put someone in this position who wants to get all 300 gilts familiar with the system in 4 hours. Hire the tortoise, not the hare.