Lessons Learned from Implementing Training Farms

Nancy Rhoads, in pink, is the training farm manager for Maschhoffs' Oklahoma Pod. ( The Maschhoffs )

A key component of retention is reducing the amount of time it takes new employees to become fully contributing members of the team.

For those with no livestock experience, the learning curve can seem even steeper. And, let’s be honest, fewer and fewer new-hires have livestock experience these days. Many producers, The Maschhoffs included, have started implementing specific training programs to help reduce this learning curve.

At The Maschhoffs, we have two training farms operational, and are in the process of launching two more. Each training farm is attached to a commercial sow farm. On those sow farms, we have a sow farm manager who oversees the production at the farm. We also have a training farm manager, who is responsible for onboarding and training new employees for the entire pod of sow farms.

Once employees graduate from the training program, they transition to a commercial sow farm where they will continue their growth and development. Our first training farm was set up in Oklahoma and has been operating for two years now. Here are several key lessons we have learned along the way:

It Starts with People

If you are considering a training farm for your company, the most important decision you will make is who will be your training manager. It requires someone with a special skill set. Here are a few keys to look for:

  • Setting Expectations: This person will set expectations for new employees on a number of key items – biosecurity adherence, time and attendance and farm processes.
  • Patience: Each day, this manager will be working with people who may have never seen a pig before. Patience is necessary.
  • Cultural Ambassador: For several weeks, new employees will train with this manager every day. It is important that this person embody the culture you strive for on the farm.

Trust Is Paramount

Our training farm managers work on behalf of the pod’s sow farm managers. Even though they work at a specific sow farm, the training farm employees will move to a different sow farm upon graduation. Therefore, the training farm manager must have the trust of all of the pod’s sow farm managers.

There must also be a strong collaboration with the training farm manager and your Human Resources (HR) team. It is a joint effort of HR and production. Designing a process and flow for applicants will help clarify responsibilities. But, at the end of the day, HR and production must work together and trust each other.

Turnover Won’t Go Away

Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions of a training farm is the expectation that employee turnover will cease to exist. You will still have turnover. However, where your turnover occurs will shift.

We have noticed that turnover primarily occurs in the training farm, rather than in the sow farms. This is important because it helps reduce the frustration that comes with investing time and resources into training new employees on-farm, only to have the person realize the job is not for them.

Once employees graduate from the training program, they have spent weeks in farrowing and breeding. They are used to the sights, sounds and smells associated with the work. Plus, their bodies have had time to adjust to the nature of the work through work-hardening. This means we have a better chance of retaining them once they shift to their role within a sow farm.

No Substitute for Hands-On

COVID-19 has shown businesses across the globe how much can be accomplished via electronic tools. Unfortunately, no matter how good your electronic training tools are, there is no substitute for hands-on training in the farm.

Done right, training farms hold great value in today’s production system. I witnessed the impact in August at one of our sow farms in Oklahoma. Of the eight employees, only two had more than two years of experience. The remaining six had graduated the training program within the past couple of years. Both team leads had less than one year of experience. This farm owes a lot of its current success to the fact that the training farm built a strong foundation of technical skills for this team.

Josh Flint, is the director of recruitment, retention and communications for The Maschhoffs.