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Alicia Catwell: All about bringing home the bacon


RACHELLE AGARD

Alicia Catwell: All about bringing home the bacon

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ALICIA CATWELL can attest to taking chances in life which turn out to be successful. A civil engineer, she took her vacation money after being laid off from her job with C.O. Williams Construction Ltd and decided to go into farming after completing a project on pigs.

“We were laid off due to a shortage of work,” she said. “As we weren’t paid out by NIS, I took my vacation money and decided to invest in pigs. A man had asked me prior to that to do some work for him on a pig project and I did everything; research, drawings, construction – you name it, I did it. At the end of it, I said to myself if I could make a man a millionaire, then I could make myself a thousandaire.” 

Making such a drastic change wasn’t easy. Catwell explained that she suffered initial losses when, after she had rented a spot to start her off, she was told she would have to vacate the property shortly after she had set up her pens. That happened a second time before she approached her grandfather, who gave her a piece of land at the back of his property. 

Of the experience, she said, “I wanted to branch out and be independent; not having to depend on family, but if I had come to my family in the first instance I would have saved a lot from the beginning. 

“When I first started, nobody wanted to sell me anything, so I bought a pregnant pig who gave me 16 piglets. After that I used six out of the litter for breeding, sold the rest and was able to buy two boars to breed the sows. And that is how I got started. And this was after having the experience of buying young pigs and on the way home they all died. So I told myself to breed my own pigs and not have that hassle in the long run.”

Now she has a thriving stock numbering about 80.

When an EASY magazine team visited the St Philip farm, Catwell was in the pens with her pigs, washing them down with a chemical called malathion. This, she said, was tedious work. “I power-wash the pens once a week and wash them down every day to avoid them getting mites as it makes a difference with the meat.”

The newlywed said the pigs were her babies, with the first pig she ever purchased being a Berkshire. That pig, which she dubbed Blackie for its colour, is her most prized and has made her more in profits than what she spent initially.

“I used to feel bad when I had to take them to be slaughtered at Balls Plantation, but I eventually came to understand that they are not pets but for business. Anybody can take anything else in these pens, but not Blackie,” she said matter of factly.

Asked how profitable it was being in the pig farming business, she said, “Meat prices have dropped considerably. There are people who want to ‘trust’ the meat and then there are those who want you to hold on for two and three weeks until they are ready to purchase from you. And just like everybody else I have to live. So I have turned to the BAS [Barbados Agricultural Society] [and] I sell the majority of the pork to them.”

She also had cows and sheep at another family location, though she said “a cow is the market’s best friend”.

“All it takes is a night for somebody to steal a cow and have it slaughtered and in the market selling the next day,” Catwell said.

She also raises chickens with her sister at the front of the property. And although the turnover period for the chickens is a mere six weeks compared with the six months for the pigs, the 35-year-old farmer prefers pigs as they bring in more profits in the long run.

Asked how she was shaping up for the demand for pork at Christmas, she said: “Christmas is looking great. For me to have the production to meet the demand, I am on top of that. Each day I divide my time between the pigs and the other animals, but I am here both morning and evening as I feed my pigs twice a day to have them to standard and ready for slaughter when the time comes.”

As for any chance of returning to civil engineering, Catwell said, “I would not leave out my pigs to do engineering. As much as I can make $5 000 in a day and have worked on projects like the Warrens and Jackson roundabouts, that is now my side hustle, as my pigs come first.” (RA)

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