Pork producers in Colorado have announced that they will begin to phase in group-housing systems for gestating sows during the next 10 years.
"Although animal welfare experts and professional groups have found no one method of housing gestating sows that is clearly better than the other, when managed properly, some concerns have been voiced about the use of individual stalls for pregnant sows," says Ivan Steinke, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council. "Individual stalls, the standard practice used in the swine industry, are used to provide for the health, safety and well-being of individual gestating sows."
More than 90 percent of the sows in Colorado will be impacted by this management change. Some of the state's larger pork production systems include M2P2, Seaboard Farms, Midwest Farms, Murphy-Brown, Teague Diversified.
Steinke cited public concerns and changing market conditions as reasons why the state's pork producers have signed off on this direction. "Our producers felt this was a proactive step," says Steinke. "A 10-year, phase-in will allow producers to thoroughly evaluate and determine the best animal welfare practices for group housing. Producers may need to reconfigure their farms, acquire new equipment and staff differently in order to provide the best animal care with group housing systems."
Colorado has been in the animal activists' sites as a next battleground for a gestation-sow housing ballot initiative similar to those in Florida and Arizona. There have been rumblings that Human Society of the United States has plans to announce just such an initiative.
Temple Grandin, animal handling and behavior expert at Colorado State University, comments, "A 10-year, phase-in period for group housing will be needed to allow producers to change pig genetics and train management to the new system."
Grandin's Colorado State colleague, Bernard Rollins, animal scientist, adds, "This change is showing a great sensitivity to changing societal ethical concerns about animals."
The National Pork Producers Council position on the Colorado announcement is that "NPPC respects the right of all producers to make market decisions they believe are in their best interest.
The American Veterinary Medical Association and other related organizations recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy.
NPPC supports the right of all producers to choose housing that ensures the well-being of their animals and that is appropriate for their operations.”