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Building begins at protests-hit pig farm in Northern Ireland

Newtownabbey base for 15,000 animals will be complete by September, says owner

By Chris McCullough

Diggers have moved on-site to start the construction of a controversial farm in Newtownabbey that will house 15,000 pigs.

Enabling work started on Monday this week as lorry loads of hardcore arrived at the Rea Hill Road to construct a laneway into the site. Once that is completed a hardcore area will be laid out for the yard before any buildings are started.

Much to the dismay of local and international protesters, the pig farm received planning permission in November last year following months of talks.

Plans were originally drawn up by farmer Derek Hall for the new farm to house 30,000 pigs, but planning permission was granted for only half that number in the end.

Mr Hall hopes the farm will be completed around September.

"The site where the farm is being built extends to 30 acres but we are actually only building on around 20% of that. The remainder will be left as a green field site and a water attenuation pond," he said.

"The farm itself is being built at the back of the site, with the pond visible from the road. Four sheds, each measuring around 110m by 38m, are being built there.

"We aim to house 15,000 pigs from weaning age, or around 7kg upwards, at the new farm.

"A third of the total pigs there will be small pigs producing very little slurry.

"Currently we have 900 sows and these will be kept at our existing farm. When the new farm is completed there is the potential to increase the sow herd to 1,500, but only if it is required.

"We are building a 500 kilowatt anaerobic digester which will take the odour emitting gases from the slurry, thereby significantly reducing odour, and convert them into energy.

"This energy base will be used to power the farm. The digester also produces heat which will be used in the pig houses in order to create a better environment for the animals."

Planning permission was passed by councillors, some of them farmers, at a sitting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council Planning Committee. Nine voted in favour and two opposed the development.

Residents had voiced huge concern over the project and said the unit would produce too much slurry and smell.

Celebrities, including Queen guitarist and animal welfare campaigner Brian May, as well as actors Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove have publicly opposed the pig unit.

Ulster Unionist councillor Roderick Swann, a farmer who backed the proposal, spoke out about celebrities involvement in such cases. "I would say simply keep your nose out of it. I'm a farmer myself for 50 years and I understand farming," he said.

"A lot of these animal rights folks, they're entitled to their opinion, but I think they're on the wrong track sometimes. This will be the most modern pig farm, not a factory, not only in Ireland but also Great Britain."

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