2021 winners follow up: Chloe Shorten, Farm Worker of the Year

A desire to achieve high pig welfare has underpinned Chloe Shorten’s farming philosophy. Hannah Binns takes a closer look at the winner of last year’s Farm Worker of the Year.

For 22-year-old Chloe Shorten, pig welfare is paramount and intrinsic to her farming approach. While not from a farming background, Chloe had an interest in animals from an early age, deciding to go to Nottingham Veterinary School in 2017. But she left after three months in pursuit of working with pigs, embarking on a one-year placement at an indoor pig unit at Balquhain Farming, Inverurie, run by Mark Strachan, who she credits for ‘teaching me everything’. Chloe says: “After this I enrolled on an agricultural degree at Edinburgh and completed my first year, but the course was then scrapped as there were not enough people. “I transferred onto Scotland Rural College’s [SRUC] agricultural degree part-time and had to find a six-week placement for year two. “It was hard as at that time nobody was needing pig people, but I eventually got one with J.C. Innes and Sons, based in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, which has enterprises in cattle, sheep, arable and indoor pigs. “After a while of working there I ended up being offered an assistant manager position.” Promoted to pig unit manager in 2020, Chloe runs the breeding aspect of the pig enterprise, which has seen an expansion from 750 sows to 1,100. She says: “We breed gilts for JSR Genetics on a fixed contract and our boars go to the finishing site two miles away. The farm has one of the most modern units in our area and we operate a Danish system with free access stalls and fully slatted in and out, which locks pigs in for service.


“I helped push the idea of freedom farrowing and was involved in the designs of the crates. I wanted them to be as big as possible and to make the crate arm go up rather than out, so the pigs have more room. “The cost was ridiculous at £4,000 a crate, so it was a big investment and there is no premium for piglets reared in this system. “One-third of our crates are freedom, which is much better. I am all about welfare.” Farrowing is the highlight of Chloe’s job, with 140 pigs giving birth to about 2,500 piglets in a three-week batch system. She says: “I do the farrowing myself and stay there at night as piglets need to be constantly checked for 72 hours. Nobody realises how much management they take and if you do not get it right, there can be big problems. I try and give 100ml of colostrum to each piglet too.” Chloe was also instrumental in ending the practice of teething piglets and helping to reduce the unit’s pre-weaning mortality figures. She says: “At one point we were hitting 5-6 per cent, whereas the average weaning in Scotland was about 11.2 per cent. “To help tackle rotavirus I also collect piglet scour, sometimes freezing it, and dissolve it into a pale of water to give to the next batch of pigs to drink to make their piglets immune.” Always looking to upskill and expand her knowledge, Chloe has attended courses on management and stock, as well as completed the Red Tractor pig course. She says: “There are not a lot of opportunities in the pig industry, so I am always learning and seeking them out.” Looking ahead, Chloe would like to remain at the unit, noting the freedom farrowing system keeps her there. She says: “I have also been approached by NFU Scotland to help me secure some funding to go to Canada and attend Topigs Norsvin Delta for some research.


“I had planned to go back prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, so it would be great to finally go and take some ideas back to our farm. “I would also like to work more with nutritionist Dr John Barber and pig specialist Alasdair Brodie, as well as Norvite, which keeps me learning and provides opportunities for trials. “The pig industry is often a game of numbers with everyone trying to compete with each other, but all I want is for the unit to be run well and do what we can for the pigs to the best of our ability.” As her first industry-recognised award, winning Farm Worker of the Year at last year’s British Farming Awards meant a lot to Chloe. She says: “I am not sure who nominated me, but I was really happy to be recognised. “Often the pig industry gets negative press and nobody really hears about the positives, so it was nice to showcase that [by winning the award].”