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Going the Whole Hog
China Today
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Going the Whole Hog

When photographs of young and fashionable Sun Zhuo working in a pig farm dressed in her blue work uniform went viral online, her friends were amazed. “So you really work in a pig farm!” one of them messaged her. It made Sun smile wryly. She has gotten used to people’s astonishment at her job.

Unlike many other 20-somethings who prefer to work in emerging industries in cities, Sun chose to work in the traditional breeding industry in the suburbs of Changsha City in Hunan Province in central China after completing her undergraduate course in animal quarantine in Shandong Agricultural University in east China. On her social media account, she often shares her daily work routine as a data analyst at the Hunan New Wellful Co., which breeds pigs and distributes pig feed. “I have loved animals since I was a child. To me, pigs are just as smart and cute as cats and dogs,” she said.

Sun Zhuo walking through the modern pig farm which she works at to inspect the basic conditions of the pigs.

From Pigsties to Progress

Her social media posts, showing a hygienic and modern farm, quickly gained attention online after she posted them in early 2023. People began to appreciate the transformation of the dirty and stinking pigsties of the past. Today’s farms are multistoried buildings divided into systematic blocks where the pigs and piglets are reared separately.

Sun says the farm has a high standard of biosecurity and a sophisticated cleaning and disinfection system. Before entering the core production area, workers and their equipment have to be disinfected to avoid the possibility of transmitting pathogens. Since viruses spread rapidly, if just one pig is infected, the entire farm could be affected very soon, causing significant economic loss.

Inside the farm, everything is hi-tech. An intelligent central control system monitors the whole farm. Data regarding such aspects as water, electricity, gas, and ventilation are transmitted simultaneously to electronic screens in technicians’ offices. Through automated devices, animal feces are transported downwards, and the air conditioning automatically ventilates and exchanges the air, ensuring there isn’t any strong stench fouling the farm.

The most noteworthy is the intelligent temperature control system, as temperature is of great importance for the health of pigs. “Pig hair, being hard like plastic brushes, is not as dense as the hair of other animals such as sheep or cats. That’s why pigs, especially piglets, are very sensitive to cold temperatures. An appropriate ambient temperature is very important to their delicate bellies,” Sun explained. However, heat can also cause health problems for pigs. When pigs get hot, they like to rest in wet places – normally near fecal drains, which explains why people have the impression that pig farms are invariably dirty and smelly.

Now, with the intelligent temperature control system, a standing temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius year-round is ensured, which solves both problems altogether.

In addition, there’re also sensors monitoring the livestock’s feeding. If a pig exhibits any change in appetite, breeders will inspect to see if it is ill or needs a deduction or increase of food. A feeding machine is installed on the roof of the pig farm. Through pipes, pig feed is distributed to barrels hanging above each pig. At meal times, the breeders only need to flip a switch, and the entire row of feed will fall down the pipes feeding hundreds of pigs in just a few minutes, which is much more convenient.

These hi-tech measures make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. As a result, the efficiency of pig farming has remarkably improved.

Sun’s job is to analyze the breeding data at different farms of the Hunan New Wellful Co. On average, she stays at each farm for a month, with just four days off. “Sometimes I feel like I’m cut off from the outside world. But overall, I enjoy my work,” she said, “Food and accommodations are free, the workload is light, and the salary is competitive.”

Creating New Jobs

After Sun became popular online, many young people’s impression of pig farms has changed. They often leave messages under her posts, asking about the work of a farm technician. In 2023, China has seen 11.58 million college graduates, a new high. Given the high turnout, both creating stable and satisfactory jobs and recruiting suitable employees remain challenging. The government is making a lot of efforts to create job opportunities in smaller cities as well, not just the mega ones. To Sun, small cities are good choices if they have industries suitable for young graduates’ career development. The cost of living is much lower and the pace of life not as hectic as in the metros.

At present, there are many young employees in her company. Like her, they joined the farm after graduating from college. Today, China boasts a complete pig farming industry chain, which provides many job positions, from farm managers, supervisors, and technicians to breeders, warehouse managers, and electricians.

Pig breeding now involves many modern technologies and tech-savvy young people see a future in this sector and are willing to give it a try.

For a modern pig farm, it needs graduates with a diploma in animal quarantine for breeding data analysis and epidemic prevention, graduates of biology to be responsible for animal nutrition and feed and such, and graduates of information technology for the maintenance and upgrading of intelligent systems for farms. In addition, in pork trading, sales managers and accountants are also indispensable, and when it comes to the management of the entire farm, advanced talents are in high demand.

In terms of career prospects, compared to the average annual salary of RMB 36,000 (US $4,978) in third and fourth-tier cities, pig farm employees get a salary of RMB 60,000 - 100,000 (US $8,297-13,828). Pig breeding is indeed a stable industry. China is the world’s top producer as well as consumer of pork. Last year, according to official data, it produced over 55 million tonnes of pork, the highest volume in nearly a decade. Sun’s family supports her career choice as market research indicates people in this industry almost never face the unemployment issue, and the job brings her great fulfillment.

More Farms Get Modern

Once an agrarian nation, China has always attached great importance to agriculture, its rural areas, and the conditions of farmers.

On June 15, the first plan to develop modern protected agriculture (2023-2030) was jointly issued by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and three other government bodies.

Its aim is to build a mechanized, energy-efficient, and hi-tech modern protected agriculture. Smart farms, among the measures to get the sector ahead, have become the unstoppable future.

They are also the present. Across the country, many smart farms are waiting in the wings.

In Pinggu District, the outer suburbs in Beijing, 85 special farms have been built where teams from the Beijing Agricultural College, China Agricultural University, and Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry carry out research and projects in germplasm resources, molecular breeding, smart agriculture, etc.

As of now, 13 academicians and over 400 doctoral students have participated in the Pinggu program, devoting their work to agricultural production, operation, and management, and the upgrading of farmlands, orchards, greenhouses, factories, parks, etc.

In the eyes of Lu Weihong, director of the Pinggu District Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, it’s a win-win cooperation. Through smart farms, agricultural science and technology researchers can empower farmers by turning advanced technologies and fine varieties into skills and products they can use. While in turn, they also benefit from a thriving agricultural sector.

Farming, in its modern transformation, provides countless possibilities for the future development of China while at the same time is attracting more and more young graduates.

China TodayShen Yi

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