Maple Leaf Foods is on track to transition all sows under its management to an advanced open sow housing system by the end of 2021, making it the first large-scale producer to achieve this milestone in North America. The company announced this week that it has already converted more than 40,000 sows, or more than 50% of its herd, and is developing a superior approach to husbandry and barn design that creates a benchmark for humane sow care.
The transition consists of reconstructing 31 barns at a total estimated cost of approximately $55 million, which Maple Leaf said will make it the supplier of choice to retail and foodservice customers across North America well ahead of the customers' deadline to source pork only from sows in open housing systems by 2024. It also means that the company will meet the requirements of the National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice.
According to Maple Leaf, the vast majority of the North American industry confines pregnant sows in gestation stalls 100% of the time, and most conventional open housing systems house sows in stalls for an average of 42 days during early pregnancy. In Maple Leaf's advanced system, however, pregnant sows live 100% of the time in open pens, where they are free to move, feed and socialize with other animals. The company said the system has taken close to 10 years to research and design.
"We have a bold vision to be the most sustainable protein company on Earth, and our investments and actions to become a leader in animal care are critical to advancing our progress," Maple Leaf president and chief executive officer Michael McCain said. "Our research and investment in an advanced open sow housing system is best in class in North America, leading to significantly better lives for the animals and, combined with our expertise in raising animals without antibiotics, provides a unique market advantage for Maple Leaf."
To support education and transparency, the company has built an observation barn in Manitoba that provides a complete overhead view of all aspects of sow housing through large glass windows. At the barn, sows learn how to use customized electronic feeding systems, freely access water and live in open social groups.
In addition to investments in open housing and the observation facility, Maple Leaf is also transitioning its trailer fleet to a new hydraulic floor lift transportation system that eliminates the narrow, steep ramps used to load animals onto the upper floors in conventional trailers, thus significantly reducing stress and potential injuries.
"Our focus is on providing the best, most humane care possible for animals involving extensive research, staff training and investment in innovation," said Dr. Greg Douglas, Maple Leaf vice president of animal care. "Our advanced open sow housing and transportation systems reflect our commitment to learning, change and leadership in animal care."