Canadian hog producers are set to learn from a trial currently under way at a Maple Leaf Foods barn near Steinbach, Manitoba.
The food giant is undertaking a pilot project, which will see it switch from gestation stalls to loose sow housing.
Changes to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs, issued earlier this year, mean that all hog barns built after 1 July 2014, must use loose housing models. Existing barns must also phase out gestation stalls by 1 July 2024.
In addition to the removal of gestation stalls, the CA$1.2m project, which received CA$790,000 in funding from the federal and provincial governments, has seen the purchase of new feeding systems that use radio frequency tags to ensure the sows receive appropriate nutrition, and money spent on training employees on these new systems.
The 1,250-head barn conversion was completed last winter, with the research to be collected and shared with other Manitoba producers over the next two to five years.
According to Canadian agriculture minister Gerry Ritz and Manitoba agriculture, food and rural development minister Ron Kostyshyn, producers will benefit from the research.
Kostyshyn said: "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."
Lynda Kuhn, senior vice-president of sustainability and public affairs at Maple Leaf Foods, said the firm was very pleased with the outcome of the conversion, which has resulted in better access to feed, more freedom to move and minimal aggression among animals.
"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," she explained.
Karl Kynoch, chair of Manitoba Pork Council, added: "Manitoba Pork is fully supportive of this project. It should be noted that we have been encouraging producers to move towards alternative housing systems for sows from the current gestation stall design since 2011."