16 August 2002

Theyre all learning on a piggy holiday at college

PROBLEMS in attracting young people to work on pig farms have been a cause of growing concern in the pig industry, but a Yorks college has decided to do something about it.

It recently put on an all-expenses paid "piggy holiday" so a group of youngsters could learn more about working on a pig farm, at first hand.

The response has been so great that Bishop Burton College, near Beverley, may also offer dairy and poultry farming holidays in the future, says the colleges marketing manager, Doug Stewart.

"The college was attracting students for general farming courses, but very few applications from people specifically interested in pigs," he says.

"We wrote to every farmer in the National Pig Association and asked them to pass on information about the holiday to anyone they thought might want to come. The idea was to target children of 14-16 years, particularly those who were already helping out on pig farms at weekends.

"We also publicised the holiday in the Press and on the radio. The result was that we ended up with 21 children, all from different backgrounds. Some had experience of working with pigs, but others had no involvement in farming, although they were interested in working with livestock."

&#42 Weeks stay

The students stayed at the college for a week, using rooms vacated by the full-time students. As well as carrying out practical work on the college home farm, they also visited other pig farms and related businesses in the area. But the holiday was also about having fun, and their stay included trips to the local cinema and bowling alley, as well as lots of organised games and sporting events.

At 17, Ashley Davies is already working full-time on an arable and vegetable farm in Hereford, although his family have no farming background. He had no previous experience with livestock. "I have enjoyed this holiday. Pigs are intelligent animals and I would definitely consider a career in the industry. Farming does not pay very well, but there is a lot of job satisfaction."

Emily Gay, a 15-year-old dairy and arable farmers daughter from Bristol, says she cant make her mind up what to do when she leaves school. "But I definitely want to work outside. This has been interesting and I have been surprised we have been allowed to do so much hands-on work. The smell has not put me off."

But could the holiday achieve the opposite of its intended effect? Gaining first hand experience might actually discourage some young people from entering the industry?

"If that happens, it is better that they discover they are not interested now, rather than finding out after they have joined a full-time course," says Mr Stewart.

"We are not doing this just to get more students at our college in the short-term. We hope that it will help towards creating a thriving pig industry. If we can do that, the college will benefit in the future."

He is hoping that the livestock holidays will become an annual event. And he is planning a series of one-day visits so teachers and careers advisers can find out more about pig industry opportunities for young people.

Wendy Short