Praise for Norfolk pig and poultry managers

For the second year running the Pfizer pig trainee of the year is awarded to a female winner while the poultry trainee goes to Scotland for the first time.

And the runners-up in both awards were both from Norfolk, Helen Hooks for pigs, and Jamie Curston for poultry.

The �2,500 pig training grant was presented to Kate Munro-Ashman, who manages a 900-sow outdoor unit in Berkshire, by Anne McIntosh MP, chairman of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee at the House of Commons.

The three judges, led by Richard Longthorp, chairman of Lantra England, were impressed by the way she had put into practice what she had learned in dramatically turning round the performance on an under-achieving pig unit into impressive levels of output.

The awards, now in their fourth year, are sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health in conjunction with the journals Pig World and Poultry World, recognising the important role of training in helping UK producers to achieve high animal welfare and food safety standards in an increasingly competitive market.

The poultry trainee of the year award went to Benjamin Pollard, who works in one of the most challenging sectors of the industry - pedigree poultry breeding.

Runners-up for the pig award are Helen Hooks, who was herself a runner-up for the 2008 award, who manages a 550-sow indoor unit producing weaners for the East Anglian Pig Company at Saham Toney, near Thetford, and Peter Hunt, who works with an 750-sow outdoor pig herd in Devon.

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The finalists were chosen by a judging panel of Mr Longthorp, pig industry training supremo, Gerry Brent, industry consultant, and Dr Dan Tucker, senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge school of veterinary medicine.

'Helen was able to show how training she had undertaken both from her employer's in-house technical training and from external sources had enabled her to increase levels of output and contribute to the development of her staff team.

'She made a most compelling case for being trainee of the year but, as in 2008 when she was a runner-up for this award, she was to be thwarted yet again by an even more impressive nominee.'

Poultry award runner-up, Jamie Curston, has worked for the Vion Food Group for two years. He manages a small broiler unit at Barcham, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, where his first flock finished third among 29 in the firm's league table.

When he left Methwold High School two years ago, he saw his future as a carpenter starting as an apprenticeship with a concrete factory.

When the firm went bankrupt a few months later, a friend told him about a vacancy on broiler growing unit. He was taken on as a trainee manager at the firm's largest 420,000-bird Foulden unit and farm manager Matthew Nicholls helped to give him training.

'Within a few hours of working with Jamie it was obvious how keen he was to learn the job and also hard working,' said Mr Nicholls. 'Within a few days he was learning the ropes with ease and soon fitted in with the rest of us to become a valuable member of the team.'

By the time he was 18, Jamie had picked up enough skill and knowledge to be trusted to look after his own sheds. Production manager Malcolm Gill said that when the opportunity came up of taking on a new 52,000-bird site at Barcham near Ely, it was very easy to think of a new manager who could take on this challenge.

And his first crop of broilers finished third among the 29 in the firm's league table – achieving a feed conversion of 1.67 and EPEF of 350 on birds reared to 36.6 days.

His training began with a Level 2 Livestock Production Apprenticeship with Mattishall-based Poultec which he completed three months earlier that planned producing an excellent portfolio of evidence, said Nathan Raines, academy manager.