Emma McCormack, a final-year Agriculture student is back with another update.
It’s been a while and I’m back after a busy midterm. Cows are in sheds across the country and winter has arrived.
It feels like a lifetime ago that I was living it up in America in 30 degrees of heat worshipping the air conditioning units. Now I find myself having to get up ten minutes earlier in the morning in case the windscreen of my car is frozen.
When I got home from my J1 adventures, I secured a position on a local pig farm here in Co. Westmeath. I was glad to pick up any job at all, as I was heading back to college and there were plenty of bills to be paid.
I wasn’t sure how I would get on, having no previous experience working with pigs. It’s been two months now, and I haven’t thrown in the towel just yet, so I think now is a fair time to provide an insight into being employed in the swine sector.
I won’t tell you it’s easy because I would be lying, and that’s not my way. Realistically, all types of farming can be difficult but the outcome is generally very rewarding and outweighs the struggles endured.
When you love farming; working with animals; and feeding the nation, there’s nobody that could pull you away from the hardship of it all, try as they might. The particular pig farm I’m working on has been in operation for almost 50 years now. I’m sure it has evolved hugely since the initial set up, but on a nationwide scale, it would still be quite an old-fashioned farm.
Some of the buildings are the originals and haven’t really been refurbished over the years, but there have been more sheds built and infrastructure added.
Some jobs are automated, such as feeding but there is manual work involved too. This doesn’t bother me too much as I’m only there at the weekends or when I’m off college.
The first thing I thought, when I finished my first shift down there was “Good God, I don’t know if I can handle the smell here!” I’m still here though. “Tough times don’t last, tough people, do!”
Although a conventional enterprise, jobs can usually be wrapped up in a few hours at the weekends. During the week things are more intensive, with power washing to be done each time pigs are moved out of pens and sent to the factory. It’s all routine work, and I do enjoy that.
I arrive in my own time in the mornings, earphones in and go about my jobs. It’s interesting to learn about the behaviour of these animals versus what I knew already. Seeing sows farrow with litters up to twenty-five piglets is mad and to see how quickly these animals grow is astonishing.
Most people are aware that pigs are a smelly bunch, but it is not until you are in the sheds with thousands of pigs, in rooms heated to up to 30 degrees, that you really can’t get away from the smell - it’s strong and unrelenting.
I’ve hardened up to the smell and I’m accustomed to it now really. My family are never too impressed when I arrive home and I can’t blame them, but I usually remind them that the smell of pigs doesn’t bother them when they’re on a dinner plate. That keeps them quiet for a while!!
I loved the heat in New York all summer and I’m in the same heat now, but it really is a far cry from my US adventure! Once I got past the smell and the heat, it wasn’t too bad.
I don’t think it’s a career I would pursue, but it is a very educational part-time job for the moment. It has really opened my eyes to how the pig industry actually operates, along with the management of these monogastric animals through different stages, from birth to slaughter. I’m happy enough to learn about it all, and a weekends work flies past.
I have some milking work alongside the piggery, to keep the ship afloat. I’m not sure how long I’ll stay put for. I get itchy feet if I’m idle too long, and I’m aching to book more flights now and run away from the upcoming exams this semester.
A break from college life
It’s good to get outside at the weekends though and clear my head after a week of college life, (which can be an unhealthy life).
To anyone thinking of trying out a job in the pig sector – I’d say “go for it”. It isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure but it will teach you a huge amount, and it’s good to know how things work and where our food actually comes from.
I think so, anyway. It has toughened me up a lot, which is good. Farming is a tough job and again, it’s not for everyone.
Throwing yourself in at the deep end and doing things you haven’t before is a good way to keep things exciting, push yourself forward and continue learning.
I am happy to be back milking some lovely black and white cows too, but it’s always good to have a few different things going on. It keeps me out of trouble and pays the bills - what more could you want?