A rewarding role – influencing change within animal health and welfare

Quality pig production, Martin Smith

I am currently the lead vet at British Quality Pigs (BQP) – the UK’s largest integrated pig farming business. BQP’s high-welfare farming operation forms an integral part of Tulip Food Company’s integrated farm to fork supply chain network. I lead a team of seven specialist pig vets and a further four staff who help to run the office, analyse data and dispense medicines.

I graduated from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in 2009 after completing my undergraduate bachelors degree in veterinary science and then a postgraduate degree in veterinary medicine.

My first job was in a mixed practice in Leicester, which had a 50:50 mix of large to small animal workload. At that stage I didn’t really have a career plan mapped out other than knowing that I wanted to try a bit of everything, but early on I realised that small animal practice was not for me. I had grown up on a dairy farm and realised that I was more interested in farm practice.

After several years’ clinical work, I did an internship and specialised in monogastrics, which led me to a role at the RVC working as a technical writer and developer of some of its specialised pig and poultry postgraduate online modules. I had not expected that I would be interested in technical writing, or government policy.

Move away from clinical work

The opportunity to work on the intensive livestock health and production course at the RVC was a turning point for me; it demonstrated that there were other ways in which a vet could contribute to an industry without being a clinician in the field.

In 2014 I took up a role at the pig levy board AHDB Pork (formerly the British Pig Executive) as its senior veterinary manager, with responsibility for health and welfare initiatives across the pig sector.

During my time in the role I was involved in the development of the British porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus contingency plans, which was one of the first industry-led, government-assisted disease strategies to be developed in the UK. I was also involved in leading the development, trial and launch of the pig industry’s electronic medicines book.

My varied and slightly unorthodox career path has given me additional skillsets to those of a clinician. I have had the opportunity to develop skills in technical writing, stakeholder and project management as well as gain an understanding of policy.

I am now largely office-based, managing the veterinary enterprise, and I find the role enjoyable, challenging and rewarding. It involves all aspects of pig health and welfare of the animals within the business. The core strategy at BQP focuses on the production of top-quality, higher-welfare pigs. Considerations for safety, efficiency and corporate social responsibility are at the heart of the operation. My job is made much easier by having a fantastic team who help manage the day-to-day clinical aspects of the role.

'My varied and slightly unorthodox career path has given me additional skillsets'

I am involved with other departments within the business providing technical or managerial support when required, as well as being involved with supporting our retail customers. I am also involved with several industry stakeholder groups. We work in collaboration with Tulip, the UK’s leading integrated pig producer and processor, to ensure high animal welfare standards as an integral part of the supply chain.

There is not a ‘typical’ working day within the role – it can include anything from meetings with suppliers, collaborations with multiple stakeholders, team meetings, project planning and development, research collaboration meetings, visits to farms, abattoirs or customers. It really is quite varied. What I love is that it’s a fast-paced role and highly varied, so there is never time to get bored.

During the development of the electronic medicines book for the pig sector, I worked alongside many highly skilled and knowledgeable vets, farmers and specialists and am exceedingly proud of the work we did. As part of my work on antimicrobial reduction, I was also invited to a reception on antimicrobial resistance at Clarence House, which was certainly high recognition.

The future

The company has undertaken a unique programme to support UK farmers and agricultural experts, further enhancing its industry-leading credentials. Investments have been made towards creating new opportunities for farmers – such as supporting farmers to construct new buildings in order to supply grower pigs for BQP – as well as learning and development programmes and partnerships with leading agricultural learning centres. The company continues to invest in improving animal welfare standards to ensure its operations are as sustainable as possible.

I want to continue to work in a team where excellence is part of the culture. I also would love to see career success for members of my own team.

Would I recommend my job?

Definitely. While it may not appear to be the ‘classic’ role for a vet, I think it is foolish to think that the only type of vet is a clinician. It is rewarding to be able to influence change within animal health and welfare as well as support a team of first-class clinicians.

Advice for my younger self

If I could go back in time and give myself advice it would be to enjoy the experiences gained at every career step and to be more patient with life – I’d pass that advice on to young vet professionals as well.

Who has inspired you?

I had the great privilege to work closely alongside former chief veterinary officer Jim Scudamore as part of the Pig Health and Welfare Council. At the time, he was professor of livestock and public health at Liverpool vet school and his passion and incisive mind continue to inspire me. I have learnt a lot from his extensive knowledge and experience and it was a pleasure to work alongside him.

Work-life balance

I have a young family, so I don’t get to do as many hobbies or as much sport as I used to, but I do get pleasure from simple things such as gardening or going for a run.

I have been doing CrossFit for the past four years, but unfortunately don’t have as much time to train as I would like – a resolution for the future perhaps!

If I wasn’t a vet, I think I would have ended up in a career linked with the legal system or law, as legislation has been one of the areas I have enjoyed the most since graduating.

Back to Categories