Creating and using "timelines" for your clients' farms
James Kober, DVM, MS, Diplomate ABVP
How many times have you been on a client's farm and asked ques-tions like "When did you change the mycoplasma vaccine program?" "When did your new manager start?" or "When did that PRRS break start?" I find that I ask this type of question quite frequently when I am on a farm visit.
I started using a "timeline" calendar to track these and other significant events that affect the health and production on farms. These timelines are very simple to start and keep and prove to be very useful to quickly look up a significant date. The timeline is really just a calendar that we keep in a Timeline notebook. Whenever there is a significant change or event on the farm, it is recorded on the calendar (Figure 1). These calendars should be saved over the years, as sometimes we need to know the date of an event that occurred many months earlier.
Examples of events that should be recorded include (but are not limited to) employee changes, building changes, changes in health status of the herd, changes in vaccination or medication programs, changes in management protocols, or changes in genetic or boar lines. When I first started to use this idea, it was primarily to track vaccination and medication programs (Pork Quality Assurance recording sheets). We quickly discovered that timelines are very useful for other events or changes as well. We thought we could use one calendar for all of the things we were tracking, but quickly realized that there was too much to keep on one calendar. Now we have individual calendars for health and medications (includes vaccination programs), management and employees, and other things that don't fit into the first two categories. Another option would be to color code events and use a single calendar (eg, with red for health events, blue for management, and other colors for different categories).
As with any recording system, the more detailed and up to date the data is, the more useful the records are. We start out slowly with this system, but many farms eventually get very detailed in what they keep in their timelines. We realize that most of this data may be found in other records (eg, herd reports), but it is much easier and quicker to find in a timeline calendar. The primary problem we have experienced in using timelines is that they are not always kept current, particularly when a farm has a high employee turnover rate. That is why it is important to have a particular person responsible for keeping the timeline up to date. On occasion, the veterinarian may update the timeline.
Some farms have advanced to computerizing their timelines, but this can create an accessibility problem if the computer is not kept in the barn. Timelines may be used when computer-generated production reports are produced, so that before and after data can be noted.
This simple idea has saved me a lot of time looking up the dates for when events on a farm actually took place.