Louise Blenkhorn was named Young Yet of the Year at the 2018 National Pig Awards. Simon King went to meet her to discover what made her a winner
Louise Blenkhorn qualified in 2010 at The Royal (Dick) Vet School in Edinburgh and moved to Yorkshire after graduation, where she went into mixed practice for four years.
She gradually took on more and more of the pig work and moved to the Garth Pig Practice in East Yorkshire, where she remained for almost seven years before becoming a self-employed pig consultant in November 2018.
Louise said: “My background is from a pig farming family in Northern Ireland. My grandad and my father were both pig farmers on a 350-sow farrow-to-finish indoor unit.
“I spent much of my childhood helping my father on the farm before I left for university and it is thanks to him that I have such a degree of practical and management knowledge of running a pig farm.”
Aside from pigs, Louise said the other loves in her life are husband Neil and her two daughters, Emma, aged four, and Ava, who is almost three. The family breed Pedigree Limousin cattle and farm 350 acres of arable land.
Looking back at last year’s National Pig Awards, Louise said that she was ‘delighted and very humbled’ that a colleague and a client who nominated her felt that she was deserving of the award.
“I was very much looking forward to my first ever visit to London,” she said. “My husband and I got to enjoy the many London sites, galleries and museums.
“On the awards night, it was a fantastic turnout at the event and I enjoyed having a glass of wine and a chat to so many familiar faces – most didn’t recognise me in a dress!
“During the awards, it was amazing to hear of all the hard work and dedication of many of the stockmen/women and of those involved in the pig industry. It made me feel very proud to be part of this great industry.”
Louise set up her business, Louise Blenkhorn Consultancy, prior to the National Pig Awards nominations being announced.
She said: “I was absolutely ecstatic to win, especially given the talents of the other two nominees. And I was even happier that I was still categorised as a ‘young’ vet. Winning at the National Pig Awards has certainly helped my recognition within the industry.
“I get most of my work through being in the industry for many years, through word of mouth and through the success of my farm reviews.”
Looking at her work, Louise said that the day in the life of a pig vet, mother of two and a farmer’s wife is ‘nothing less than crazy – but in a good way’.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world. In terms of my pig work, it is very varied. I offer all aspects, including routine Red Tractor assurance visits, one-off or regular consultancy visits to troubleshoot problem areas, classroom-based or on-farm training on all aspects of pig production and management, disease investigation and health monitoring and one-off or periodic herd health and management reviews.
“My particular passion is fertility reviews aimed at optimising breeding herd performance and productivity and essentially the profitability for your business. Given my background in pig farming, I find that my hands-on, practical approach is welcomed and very successful.”
Louise reported that she is busy and that she is very much enjoying it. She aims to be flexible with her availability to suit her clients’ needs. She works directly with clients and she also supports several veterinary practices.
“I am also committed to education and staff training and do practical, on-farm training or more classroom-based training either directly to client bases or via AHDB.”
Louise acknowledges that there are many challenges facing the pig industry. “The big challenges include endemic disease such as PRRS, the threat of African swine fever (ASF), the drive to reduce antimicrobial use and the phasing out of zinc use by 2022 – not to mention Brexit,” she said
“ASF is certainly at the forefront of our minds and we need to continue to be vigilant. In my opinion, ASF control must centre around education, biosecurity and wild boar population control.”
The general public must understand the devastation ASF could cause to the national pig herd and we need to do everything we can to educate them, she added.
She said: “The NPA and AHDB have rolled out a #MuckFreeTruck campaign and Defra has launched a poster campaign at airports highlighting the illegality and potential impact of importing meat from ASF- affected countries. These implications need to be widely publicised for more widespread understanding and support.
“I encourage all pig producers to tighten all areas of biosecurity to try to reduce the risk. Hygiene, cleaning and disinfection protocols need to be stringent, with no exceptions. This includes incoming people, vehicles and equipment as well as internal biosecurity. These measures will also help to protect your herd against other diseases, such as swine dysentery.”
Addressing Brexit, Louise said that the entire farming industry would welcome some certainty at this challenging time.
She said: “I believe that the pig sector is comparatively well set to cope with any Brexit outcome – but yes, there may be some challenging times ahead.
“My focus is to ensure that all my clients’ farms are running as efficiently as possible so that they can be successful and sustainable, no matter the challenge. I will continue to offer honest and totally independent advice.
“We certainly have challenges to face in the coming months and years. However, I feel that the industry is up to this challenge. We must not become complacent, but rather, be proactive and progress.
“To quote Vince Lombardi: ‘The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary’.”