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Lizzy Murrell is a young farmer who started running her own pig unit three years ago when she was aged just 19. After an incredibly successful few years, she is now single-handedly running her own 2,000-pig unit. Despite the long hours and hard work, the best part for her is that she is raising them to higher welfare standards and achieving great results.
Discovering a Passion for Pig Farming and Animal Welfare
Despite pig farming being in the family, (both Lizzy’s grandfather, and aunt and uncle run their pig farms in Norfolk), Lizzy finished school without a clear idea of her future. She began a diploma at college and in her spare time worked on her aunt and uncle’s 2,500-pig unit farm. She quickly became aware of the importance of producing pigs to the highest possible welfare standards.
“I’m really grateful for the time I spent working on my aunt and uncle’s farm. They are RSPCA Assured and so I learnt how to do things the right way. Pigs are such intelligent animals and we need to respect that. They need space and enrichment activities that allow them to express their natural behaviours.”
Experiencing Diverse Pig Farming Operations
As well as being RSPCA Assured, her aunt and uncle’s farm was part of BQP (Pilgrims Pride) group, one of the biggest providers of high-welfare pork in the UK. Lizzy was offered a work experience placement at BQP to visit farms with their fieldsmen and undertook audits to assess how each unit was being run.
“I went to a lot of different farms and saw a lot of what goes on. It was a fantastic experience for someone my age and I got to see so many different operations. It also made it clear to me how important good welfare is and how it should be at the heart of all farming. Initially, I was interested in becoming a fieldsman myself, but then I realised that I wanted to do something more practical as I enjoyed being with the pigs so much.”
Taking the Leap: Running Her Own RSPCA Assured Pig Unit
When Lizzy returned to her aunt and uncle’s farm, her grandfather was investing in building another pig unit and offered it to Lizzy to run.
“I was never under any pressure to go into the family business, but pig farming was something I had experience in. So when the opportunity came, I jumped at it. Now that I rent the farm from my grandfather and run my own unit, I’m able to do things my way.”
Putting Pig Welfare First
“For me, it all starts with the welfare of the pigs and that’s why being RSPCA Assured is so important. Their welfare is everything to me. I want to do the best for my pigs and give them a good life. Although I am sad to see them go, I know that I have done my best for them.
“I believe that you have to like pigs to do this job. They are so interesting and they all have very different personalities. Recently, I had one female pig that wouldn’t leave me alone, she used to follow me around everywhere. As she got bigger, she tried to play-wrestle with me so I had to keep my wits about me when I went into her pen. Some can be quiet and shy, while others are sociable and friendly.”
Creating a Comfortable and Calm Environment for Pigs
The weaners arrive at Lizzy’s pig unit at four to five weeks old and then stay on-farm for 20 weeks.
“Having over 2,000 weaners is very time intensive. I need to check on them around five or six times a day. This goes down to at least twice a day when they are older.”
The aim is to get the pigs settled and feeling calm as quickly as possible.
“Visitors to the farm are often surprised at how contented the weaners are”.
Lizzy’s pigs are housed in large units with fresh air circulating and natural light.
“This helps them to feel more relaxed, as well as providing them with the right nutrients and sufficient enrichment like plenty of straw in every pen”.
The Importance of Straw for Pig Enrichment
“Straw is essential to pigs, they play and root around in it all the time. They’re intelligent creatures and they need to be occupied with things to do. They like to entertain themselves and straw is so important for this. I give my pigs rubber star-shaped toys which they play in the straw with. It’s funny to watch as they carry them around in their mouths!”
Industry Recognition for her Approach
What does the future look like for Lizzy? Despite the current challenging environment the pig industry is facing, Lizzy is optimistic about the future and believes the key to success is welfare-based. Recently nominated as a finalist for Pig Farmer of the Year at the Farmers Weekly Awards, Lizzie was also crowned 2021 Growing Stockperson of the Year by BQP. So, watch this space.
Hopes for a High Welfare Future in the Pig Industry
“Customers increasingly want to know where their food is coming from. As people come to understand more about what good welfare means, they realise how important it is. A higher welfare scheme like RSPCA Assured can help to educate and raise awareness of what it means to give farmed animals a better life.
I think, to get through the challenges ahead, the pig industry is going to have to be at the top of its game in terms of welfare. I know that if my pigs are well cared for and healthy then I’ll get better results. I’ve learned this from experience and my pig unit speaks to its truth.”
Final Thoughts: The Rewards of Being a High Welfare Pig Farmer
“Doing the best I can for my pigs and concentrating on their welfare has helped me to succeed as a producer. I can honestly say that although I have my ups and downs with work, like everyone does, I love my job, and enjoy being with the pigs so much. It makes it all worthwhile.”