Harker: See the forest and the trees

posted on Thursday, October 1, 2020 in Swine Health Services News

I did not plan to use another 2020 vision analogy, but then one day I heard the saying “he/she can’t see the forest for the trees” and it sparked the fireworks. This phrase negatively describes someone who is so focused on the details that they do not see the big picture. However, I believe being capable of focusing on details is a great ability that some possess innately. Think how often you see a job description that states individuals must be detail oriented? These individuals get things done and follow standard operating procedures very well. Helping them understand how their day-to-day actions contribute to the big picture can give them motivation to stay focused and avoid burnout. These people are important to the entire swine industry.

While focusing on details is important, it is also important to understand how getting those details right affects the big picture. I remind the less detail-oriented caretakers to see the PIGS in the pen, not a PEN of pigs to encourage them to watch individual pigs for signs of disease or injury. By focusing on each pig in a barn of thousands, we can identify problems before they get out of control. Each individual pig’s health and welfare affects the health and welfare of the site, farm, and system that it is being raised within and thus affects the entire swine industry.

The forest is made up of many trees with different characteristics (species and age) and the individual contributions of each tree keep the forest healthy. Some produce fruit or nuts that feed wildlife, some have thorns that protect bird nests from predators, and some stay green year-round to provide winter shelter. One thing all these trees have in common is that they hold soil moisture, prevent soil erosion, and convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. While each pig in our industry does not have that many different characteristics, they all are excellent at converting poor quality grain protein into high quality protein food. Keeping in mind our big picture goal of feeding the world high quality protein can help keep us on task even when financial benefits are non-existent.

As swine veterinarians we have chosen to focus on one species, but we should keep in mind the bigger picture of the veterinary profession. Providing our expertise with swine to the veterinary community is our role in keeping the veterinary profession healthy. Do your part to communicate with other veterinarians in your community and educate them about the unique details of the swine industry.

The AASV “forest” is made up of members who all have unique characteristics. These unique characteristics help keep our association healthy. Mutual respect is the key to keeping our organization strong during these stressful periods in our world. It is possible to stand firm in your convictions while keeping an open mind to others. Much like the trees, we all protect the health and welfare of the pigs by using our diverse abilities.

I think the AASV and its members are perfectly positioned to see both the forest and the trees. We already possess the diversity of thinking to do all the details correctly while keeping the swine industry healthy and sustainable. Keep up the good work seeing the forest AND the trees!

Article written by: Dr. Jeff Harker, AMVC veterinarian.
Printed in Journal of Swine Health and Production - Volume 28, Number 5


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