Thoughts on recruiting stock technicians

These day I preper to refer to our stocksmen and women as pig technicians, writes John Gadd. This is a far better way of these describing their modern roles, and gives a welcome boost to their status as well.

The key is to catch and attract people to the industry when they’re young. This is essential, and there’s no better time to make a pitch for pig production than when they’re still at school.

Talking to schoolchildren, as I do, about pigs, I’ve found that these days they’re hooked on computers. Even 10-year-olds put me to shame in their knowledge and dexterity in what they can do in front of the screen. I feel we in pig production are not doing nearly enough to spread the attractive message to school leavers (and earlier) that a career as a pig technician is nowadays very likely to involve using a computer as part of the job in so many different ways.

Not only to explore what records reveal the performance of the pigs they’ll be caring for (note the word caring – the young respond to such words), but how computerised records can improve the owner`s profits as well as safeguarding their jobs and helping reduce waste – another subject I’m told the younger generations find important.

I show them examples of how computerised recording can be absorbing and not a chore, and how interesting it can be when they measure progress in graphical form – as they increasingly do in classrooms nowadays.

So, I show them:

  • how computerised wet feeding takes the heavy work in lugging food around off their shoulders. And how it can be linked to other management practices to save them time and trouble – even in future, to assist disease detection;
  • how working with a pig specialist vet is so rewarding in accelerating the learning curve;
  • how modern computerised control of ventilation gets the environment exactly right, not only for their pigs but for the staff, so that the concept of working with pigs being smelly has been much reduced; and
  • how the new farm-specific diet concept can revolutionise the way pigs are fed from now on, and is dependent on regular computerised information collected by the pig technician and sent in by email to the nutritionist.

Recruiting female labour is increasingly important now that much larger litters are with us. Not only are more baby pigs around, but there are more underprivileged ones, too. The best “carers” are women. Certain nations stand out: farrowing staff in Japan are invariably women, and the North American Hutterites and the Scandinavians are hard behind them.

Impatience is a prominent stockmanship failing, I guess. Women are more patient and maybe a little more observant – another important characteristic. Patience also makes them more resilient to the demands of the intensive, yet at the same time delicate, techniques of today. Especially in reducing the scourge of mortality to weaning, where I have seen the Japanese excel.

I feel my talks leave them – and their teachers, don’t forget them – rather surprised. I hope I have gone some way towards encouraging both teachers and children – eventually even some parents – into thinking that working with pigs is not necessarily the dirty, smelly, too much like hard work for little return, low-technology job that carries a poor status in society.

On the contrary, to become a pig technician these days is a fulfilling, progressive technical job towards management, now that enlightened training and certification leading to a full apprenticeship is possible in Britain.

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About The Author

John Gadd, who has spent 60 years' involvement in pig production, has had more than 2,800 articles about pigs published and has written three best-selling pig textbooks. With hands-on experience that includes managing a grow-out herd at 1,800ft in Banffshire, Scotland, and 20 years in the allied industries with Boots' Farm Department, RHM Agriculture and Taymix, he set up his own international pig management consultancy in the mid 1980s and has now visited more than 3,000 pig units in 33 countries as a pig management adviser. (Photo courtesy Bournemouth Daily Echo)