What are Standard Operating Procedures, and why are they important to the swine industry

Making assessments and audit guidelines easier for swine producers.

A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a simple document that provides instructions on how to perform a routine or technical task that is followed by a business or industry. In the U.S. swine industry, SOPs are focused on key aspects of the audit training process employed by the Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) Site Assessment Audit, which is designed to mimic the Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA). Key aspects of these SOPs focus on timely euthanasia, willful acts of abuse, medication and treatment records, animal benchmarking, caretaker knowledge/understanding, facilities and equipment documents and daily guidelines.  Implementation and consistent practice of these SOPs should result in a safe environment for both people and pigs while creating a safe and delicious pork product.

As many farmers and producers of agricultural commodities will tell you, caring for livestock is hard work. In many cases, swine caretakers are well trained in daily pig care on both the animal welfare and records management requirements, yet still have a strong aversion to maintaining SOPs and participating in formal audits. One reason for this is the extra paperwork required, which may involve a significant time commitment, especially when SOP maintenance isn’t practiced on a regular basis, often resulting in a backlog of paperwork to complete right before an assessment is needed. Many swine producers have SOPs that set on shelves covered with dust from lack of use, and some don’t understand their importance, since the major daily (and usually consuming) focus of swine production revolves around pig care and trying to remain profitable, and the link between work required to “get these jobs done” and SOP maintenance is not always clear. Thus, on some farms, SOPs are often not reviewed or maintained on a regular basis.

Maintaining a successful swine operation requires that producers and employees be committed to consistent practice of proper work procedures. This is where SOPs are essential, as they provide a framework whereby swine producers can train and educate consistent care of pigs at all stages and in any situation that might arise. SOPs provide a standard yet detailed description of commonly used procedures for pig care that should be followed during routine care of pigs and barn maintenance. These procedures should be updated regularly. New employees should read and understand specific tasks based on SOPs; seasoned employees should also review them routinely to remain current. The standards they describe should be upheld all the times. While reading and demonstrating a clear understanding of farm SOPs should be an essential requirement of new and experienced staff, this training should be supplemented by hands-on teaching experiences for all employees.

Swine producers may have pigs of many different ages/stages to provide care for at any time during the year. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are an integral part of the Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA+) Site Assessment Audit. The PQA+ Site Assessment Audit is a major component of the Common Swine Industry Audit (CSIA), which was developed by the U.S. pork industry with the goal of having a standardized, scientifically validated and certifiable system to assess on-farm swine welfare and food safety practices.  PQA+ provides a useful pre-test for the CSIA, and its completion is required for managers and staff at all farms providing pigs to NPB certified pork processors. The components of both require not only an assessment of the pigs on site, but also paperwork required to confirm proper care of the pigs, including SOPs.

These SOPs are basic and cover all topics needed for PQA+ trainings and site assessments. Standard Operating Procedures are required for a farm to remain in good standing for PQA+, which is considered a standard assessment for the CSIA for swine operations around the U.S. Michigan State University Extension pork team created a basic set of SOPs that are validated, available and free to all swine producers. 

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