Neil hogs the limelight

THE four-legged beasts are widely-perceived as being messy, smelly and unattractive. Looking after pigs doesn't exactly sound like an enticing proposition.

THE four-legged beasts are widely-perceived as being messy, smelly and unattractive. Looking after pigs doesn't exactly sound like an enticing proposition.

Why then would someone choose it for a career? In the third of our dirty jobs series, NEIL PUFFETT worked with pig farmer Jonathan Bradley.

I HAVE to admit I have a bit of a soft spot for pigs.

Ever since I was a kid they have been my favourite animal - although that's probably more to do with the fact that nobody else liked them, rather than any real affinity for hogs.

As I have grown up it's fair to say my liking for the animal is more based on it tasting great between two slices of bread with a few dashes of ketchup than anything else.

Apart from that though, the manner in which the bacon, sausages, or pork joint and apple sauce end up on my plate has not really entered my thoughts though.

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Basic teachings at primary school informed me pigs are one of a number of animals kept by farmers but my knowledge of how they are reared and kept doesn't really extend a great deal beyond that.

Despite this primitive understanding of the industry I did know one thing - the thought of working with pigs had never come close to appealing to me.

In an attempt to open my mind I set off for Manor Farm in Battisford, near Stowmarket, to get a basic grasp of how the industry operates and what it is like to be a part of it.

However alarm bells started ringing even before leaving the The Star offices when a colleague mentioned that just a few days beforehand a 51-year-old Norfolk farm worker was seriously injured after being attacked by a group of pigs.

On arriving at Manor Farm I hoped to put my mind at rest by asking pig manager Jonathan Bradley if he had any similar experiences.

“Yes,” he alarmingly replied.

“About three years ago I was attacked by a boar. “I still have the scars on my stomach from the stitches.”

Just what I wanted to hear.

Getting into my overalls and Wellington boots I wondered what I had let myself in for.

My concern continued unabated when we started work in the main pig building, which holds around 900 hogs and sows at 40 to a pen, and the smell of an awful lot of pig mess struck me like a sledgehammer.

I adapted quickly by breathing through my mouth and immediately wondered how we could possibly clean out so many pigs.

However once we got down to it I was amazed with the efficiency of the system and how much more there is to looking after pigs than shovelling muck.

The pens were designed so that the areas where mess is left can be gated off on each side.

A small JCB-like vehicle is then driven through the building pushing all the used straw and dung out the other side of the building.

It was my job to follow Mr Bradley into each pen, check for any injured or poorly pigs and throw more straw into the pen if necessary.

As we went along we closed off each mess area to make room for Mr Bradley's colleague Jim Pursehouse to clear the muck away with the mini bulldozer. My biggest challenge proved to be staying on my feet as the floor of each pen was like an ice rink of muck.

This was made more difficult by constantly being surrounded by dozens of lively and inquisitive pigs charging around.

Fortunately, despite various attempts by some of the pigs to munch on my boots and legs, I kept on my feet for the duration and avoided any embarrassing slips.

After my initial hesitations I soon got used to being surrounded by the animals and started to enjoy my time on the farm.

Chatting to Mr Bradley along the way, I found that clearing mess is only a small part of the job. The industry is having to move with the times to meet the challenge of cheap pork producing nations such as Brazil and a huge emphasis is placed on making sure the animals are kept in the right conditions to grow quickly and stay free from illness.

Complex graphs are used to chart how pigs react to different environments and research is carried out on improving the process. Adherence to numerous government regulations is a must.

Far from being the traditional ear-of-corn-in-the-mouth job, I was expecting my time with the pigs proved to be a real eye opener into a job that is fast becoming more reliant on science than shovelling.

So why does 51-year-old Mr Bradley like working with pigs?

Having worked with pigs since he was 19, Mr Bradley started his own business ten years ago and manages the 1,750 pigs on Manor Farm for the owner. Besides this he also works in insemination - collecting semen from hogs and impregnating sows.

Mr Bradley said: “I'm not sure why I chose to work with pigs, it must have started at an early age.

“They are an intelligent animal and they are not hard to manage. They are a lot easier to manage than humans.

“My wife doesn't like the smell but my 19-year-old daughter has started working at a pig farm and she enjoys it. People think it is just shovelling muck around but there is a lot more to it than that.

“It is very sophisticated and you have control the temperature and ventilation of the buildings, ensure the pigs remain healthy and abide by all the rules and regulations.

“For young people it is a good industry to get in to. You are out in the country in the fresh air, the peace and quiet and it is quite a well-paid industry.”

WEBLINKS:

www.bpex.org

www.britishpigs.org.uk

10 Pigs are brought on to the farm at the age of between ten and 12 weeks.

30 When they arrive they weigh on average 30 - 35kg and are kept until they reach 100kg

80 Each pig will fetch around £80 once fully grown

106 Pig meat sells at around 106 pence a kilo

AS far as words go, the three-letter noun “pig” has pretty negative connotations.

People are “pig headed” if they are stubborn.

You make a “pig's ear” of something if you do it badly.

Someone who munches on too many mince pies over Christmas is a “fat pig” while things that are aesthetically unpleasant are often branded “pig ugly”.

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