Waiting until 2023 to choose what to do with an old sow barn might be a bad decision.
Mark Fynn, a Manitoba Pork Council animal care specialist, said numerous farmers will probably be replacing or renovating barns to beat the 2024 national open housing deadline, and there might not be enough construction companies available to get everybody’s last-minute work done.
“If we wait until 2024, because there haven’t been new builds (in Manitoba,) I’d be worried about having a number of construction firms available to do the new builds or renovations,” Fynn said in an interview during the council’s annual meeting.
Not only is the deadline looming, by which time Canadian hog producers must provide open housing or regular exercise to pregnant sows, but the ability to replace stalls is much reduced from the past, when there were many hog barn construction teams.
One impact of the 10-year hog barn moratorium in Manitoba has been a loss of construction work for companies that used to build barns, and those companies and workers have been doing other types of construction.
How many firms and how many construction crews will be available for new barns or renovations is an open question.
Much work will need to be done in the next seven years. Manitoba has hundreds of large barns with almost all built before 2007, when the moratorium began to be introduced and a cyclical price downturn occurred.
The easiest way to provide high-efficiency open housing would be to construct a new barn specifically designed for open housing. Many farmers are expected to replace worn out barns in the next few years as the open housing deadline looms, the moratorium is removed and the profitability outlook remains positive.
The pork council estimates 50 to 100 barns will be built in the next few years. However, some farmers are likely to try to hold on to some barns past 2024, and to do that they will need renovations.
The 2024 deadline contains a provision for gestation stalls to remain, but only if the sows are given “periodic exercise.”
The problem with that is that the term “periodic exercise” has not been defined. That’s a problem with anybody planning a renovation to meet the code after 2024.
Fynn urged farmers who realize they will need to replace or renovate a barn to contact him in order to talk through the options. He said he believes some barns will be possible to renovate, but many won’t.
As well, a renovation might hurt a farm’s efficiency.
“Converting a barn over to loose housing, you’re going to have to make compromises that you wouldn’t have to make if you’re building a new sow barn,” said Fynn. “It’s a case by case basis.”
Farmers have lots of choices to make before 2024, but Fynn urged farmers to start thinking about those choice, because 2023 might be too late to start making the transition.