Pioneers advanced open sow housing and transparency with new observation barn; transitioning to humane low stress transportation system
Maple Leaf Foods (TSX: MFI) has converted more than 40,000 sows, or over 50% of its herd, to its advanced open sow housing system, developing a superior approach to husbandry and barn design that creates a benchmark for humane care of sows.
he Company is on track to transition all sows under its management by the end of 2021 and become the first large-scale producer to achieve this milestone in North America. This involves reconstructing 31 barns at a total estimated cost of approximately $55 million. This will position Maple Leaf to be a supplier of choice to retail and foodservice customers across North America, well ahead of their deadline to only sourcing pork from open housing systems by 2024, and to meet the requirements of the National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice.
The vast majority of the North American industry confines pregnant sows 100% of the time in restrictive gestation stalls. Most conventional open sow housing systems continue to house sows an average of 42 days in stalls during early pregnancy. In Maple Leaf’s advanced system, pregnant sows live 100% of the time in open pens, where they are free to move, feed and socialize with other animals. The system has taken Maple Leaf close to ten 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,” said Michael H. McCain, president and CEO, Maple Leaf Foods. “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 which 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 narrow steep ramps used to load animals onto the upper floors in conventional trailers, and significantly reduces 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, vice president, animal care. “Our advanced open sow housing and transportation systems reflect our commitment to learning, change and leadership in animal care.”