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on December 8, 2014

Project provides real-world information on loose sow housing

Canadian grant money helps Maple Leaf Foods pig farm switch from gestation stalls to loose sow housing

Hog producers will benefit from research on switching from gestation stalls to loose sow housing as a result of a pilot project underway on a Maple Leaf Foods barn near Steinbach, Canadian Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Minister Ron Kostyshyn announced.

The $1.2 million project received $790,000 from the federal and provincial governments and is the largest complete barn conversion in Manitoba. Funding was used to:

  • Remove gestation stalls and replace them with a design that allows sows to move freely throughout the barn;
  • Purchase and install new feeding systems that use radio frequency identification tags to ensure each sow receives the appropriate nutrition; and
  • Train employees on the new systems and how to train the sows to use the feeders.

"These are the first scale conversions to open sow housing in Canada and our priority was to complete them in a manner that enhanced animal welfare and maintained a safe work environment,” said Lynda Kuhn, senior vice president of sustainability and public affairs at Mapl Leaf Foods. “We are very pleased with the outcome, including maintenance of high safety standards for our people, and better access to feed, more freedom to move and minimal aggression among animals. The support of the federal and Manitoba governments was pivotal to these projects and we are sharing what we've learned to assist the broader industry."

The 1,250-head barn conversion was completed last winter. As part of the funding agreement, research gathered from this barn conversion will be shared through factsheets, seminars and workshops with other Manitoba producers over the next two to five years. They will provide real-world data on barn design, equipment needs, animal nutrition and care, and employee training requirements. The 1,250-head barn conversion was completed last winter.

Manitoba uses the standards set under national codes of practice to enforce provincial legislation related to animal care and welfare. Earlier in 2014, the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs, a standard developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council, was updated. As a result, all hog barns built in Manitoba after July 1, 2014 must use loose housing models. There are stricter standards for existing barns, which must phase out gestation stalls by July 1, 2024. The code also set out standards related to animal health, husbandry and transportation. Development of the code followed national public consultations that resulted in 4,700 submissions from producers, processors, veterinarians and animal welfare advocates.

This project is funded under Growing Forward 2 - Growing Assurance. In Manitoba, the federal and provincial governments are investing $176 million under Growing Forward 2, a five-year, federal-provincial-territorial policy framework to advance the agriculture industry, helping producers and processors become more innovative and competitive in world markets.

"The Canadian pork industry is a major economic driver. This project will assist in developing and adopting new tools and strategies for the sector to remain competitive and sustainable, and provide more opportunities for producers to prosper," said Ritz.

"This project will give producers a better understanding of loose housing and some real-world knowledge on how to make their own successful transition. Manitoba's pork producers continue to put a top priority on animal care and herd health.  Moving forward, the results of this project will be important for the sustainable future of the industry,” added Kostyshyn.

Karl Kynoch, Chair of the Manitoba Pork Council applauds the effort and says Manitoba Pork has been actively encouraging producers to look at alternative housing systems.

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