Hog producers fear barn conversion too costly

Prairie pork producers are being encouraged to make their views known about the proposed code of practice for pigs.

The code, officially released June 1, is open for comment until Aug. 3 and is expected to be finalized by year end.

Alberta producers got a preview at a series of Alberta Pork meetings last week, with many expressing worry about some of the code’s contents.

Among the most contentious were requirements for barn conversion to free housing, reduced use of sow gestation stalls and eventual elimination of stalls by 2024.

“In my opinion, there isn’t enough money in this industry for all of us to change our barns. It will be an easy decision for some of us. Just shut down,” said Picture Butte, Alta., pig producer Andy Vanessen, a regional director.

Alberta Pork chair Frank Novak urged every producer to consider what it will mean to their operation and submit comments accordingly.

He said information collected by his group and the Canadian Pork Council indicate costs of $500 per sow or more to convert barns to open housing. Space requirements also suggest herd reductions of 20 to 30 percent if barn size remains the same.

“This is why we need, as part of this process, for producers to go to their own farms … and figure out what it really means so that when you respond, you respond with an in-formed and intelligent answer.”

Novak said some producers who have already converted to open housing may find they are still not in compliance with requirements proposed in the code.

As well, putting sows accustomed to individual stalls into group housing will result in fighting and potential injury.

Sask Pork general manager Neil Ketilson said dates for compliance to open housing will be the most contentious part of the code, although 15 to 20 percent of Saskatchewan producers already have open housing systems.

Ketilson said he thinks producers can live with the space allowances noted in the code but they will expect assistance or compensation for making the conversion.

Compensation was also a theme at Alberta Pork meetings.

“If the value chain that is the consumers, the retailers, everybody else wants us to do this, then maybe it’s time for them to step up with their wallets and say, ‘we think this is important and here’s how we’re going to help you do this’,” said Novak.

Ard Bonthuis, who has a 700-sow operation near Taber, Alta., said financing options are limited for producers who must convert their barns. Banks put no value on barns so they cannot be used as equity for loans.

“Barns might cost $3 million to build but if you can’t borrow money on it, it’s not worth anything.”

Manitoba Pork Council chair Karl Kynoch said imposed deadlines for barn conversion would be a major concern. In addition to cost, new systems require different management and producers don’t want to reduce animal welfare while changes are made.

Kynoch also said the public has been misled by animal welfare groups to assume all hogs live in stalls and all pork comes from hogs that have been confined.

“It’s not like this is going to be a drastic change for the animals because 98 percent are not in stalls already.”

The draft code and the public comment system are available at www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pigs.

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