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Julia’s Weekly Midsussex Times Column

My early experience with pig farms ensured that I never wanted to become a pig vet!

“Just take off all your clothes and hop into the shower,” wasn’t a phrase I was expecting first thing on arriving at work!

It was a lovely summer morning one Monday, and I had joined a team of pig vet specialists whilst in my fourth year at Vet School. Our first call was to a highly protected farm, where all germs were kept at bay by rigorous protocols.

I was causing something of an inconvenience by not being a man. This was the 1980s – separate male and female showering facilities were not provided! So whilst the farmer, his assistants and the Vet went on ahead of me, I had to wait outside.

Soon they all emerged at the other side of the fencing wearing overalls, hats and boots, and waved to indicate that the shower room was now vacant.

Secretly terrified that they would play some obvious joke on me, like removing all my ‘dirty’ clothes and forgetting to provide a towel or any ‘clean’ clothes I began my initiation into Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) Pig Farming.

The showers were surprisingly clean, with pleasant smelling soap. I carefully checked that there was in fact a towel and an overall laid out for me, and hastily washed myself all over, including soaping my hair, as instructed earlier by my mentor. Nevertheless, I missed the first 20 minutes of the consultation, and felt a bit odd slopping about in man-size clothes and boots, with my long damp hair shoved into a second-hand hat.

The idea with SPF pig farms was to try to keep the stock incredibly free of natural germs, enabling them to breed and grow more successfully and profitably for the farmer.

However, it cannot be said that this reduced the smell or the noise that usually accompanies any large group of pigs. I was really looking forward to that warm shower on the way back out.

We discussed the issues the farmer was having, and the specialist took some samples and together we headed back to the vehicle. Once again I had to strip and wash.

We repeated this exercise three times that same day. Suffice it to say that my hair never dried out, and no-one joined me for a drink in the pub that night – the aroma had presumably attached itself inescapably. I really enjoyed the company of the vets, the farmers and the pigs, but quickly discovered that pig vetting and I were not meant to be a long-term match!

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