Herd Profile

Mountain Vista Sow Unit – Sunterra Farms Ltd.


Mountain Vista Sow Unit – Sunterra Farms Ltd. is located near Drumheller Alberta. The conversion of approximately 2000 stalls to shoulder stall pens began in May 2017 and was completed gradually over the following year. Herd size was reduced by about 300 animals to accommodate renovation work. The original feed lines, trough drinkers, electrical, ventilation, manure management systems were all maintained.


  • Approx. $120,000
  • 4100
See Conversion Process


Mountain Vista Sow Unit – Sunterra Farms Ltd.

Mountain Vista Sow Unit, located near Drumheller, Alberta, is part of Sunterra Farms Ltd.

The 4300 sow to wean operation was built in 1997 and has 3462 gestation stalls in 3 sow gestation rooms and one gilt gestation room.  The Raised Without Antibiotics (RWA) off spring come from PIC genetics and semen using Camborough Cross sows and coloured boars. The sows are bred by Post-Cervical Artificial Insemination (PC-AI) and farrowed in one of the 12 farrowing rooms of 50 sows. Piglets are weaned at 3 weeks and moved to an off-site nursery barn.

The company wanted to move the herd to group housing within the existing footprint of the unit and researched several different options.  Approximate costings ranged from 3 million dollars for a complete ESF renovation to $120,000 for an in-house conversion small groups with shoulder stalls. After taking into account items like moving feed lines, electrical services, ventilation, flooring, down time, production loss, biosecurity and cost they decided to convert breeding and gestation stalls to groups with shoulder stalls.

Conversion of approximately 2000 stalls to shoulder stall pens began in May 2017 and has been gradual, with a few pens at a time. Work was slow over the summer as different ideas were tried for flooring and pen design. The complete renovation will be completed within a 1 year time frame.

Original feed lines, trough drinker, electrical, ventilation, manure management systems were all maintained. Welding, concrete and renovation work is all being done by company staff with no outside contractor or labour.

The original gestation room layout consisted of:

Two rooms: 16 rows x 74 stalls= 1184 sows/room (Sows)

One room: 14 rows x 56 stalls= 784 sows (Gilts)

One room: 5 rows x 62 stalls= 310 sows


Gestation stalls were cut short to make shoulder stalls (approx. 8” deep).

Nine stalls per side (18 back to back) were joined to make each pen. Approximately 14-15 sows are housed per pen. With 15 sows per pen, space allowance is 19 sqft/sow (18’x16’), with 14 sows- 20.5 sqft/sow. Three stall partitions per pen have been left in each pen (one side panel of a stall) to help reduce aggression.

The plan was to go with 15 sows/pen but experience has shown that larger/high parity sows do better in groups of 14.

Each room still has one row of smaller pens along the side wall of the room and one row of stalls on the other one side that has a solid alley way against the wall. The location of these did not allow for conversion.

Gilt room pens are smaller, taking up 5 stalls per row (10 stalls back to back) with a wide centre alley allowing 10 gilts per pen (17 sqft/gilt). The smaller pens have two partitions per pen.

A flexible hospital stall is built into one corner of each pen.  The stall can be folded against the pen partition wall when not in use, or opened and set up as a stall for compromised sows as needed, with its own gate. This feature helps to reduce the number of animals that have to be removed from the pen, and allows them to rejoin the group once recovered.

If needed sows can be removed from the pens and placed in one of 4 hospital/relief stalls at the end each row of pens. This gives additional space for sows that may have to be removed from the pens.  Some Meishan teaser boars are housed in stalls and will be moved to pen housing in the future.


The original gestation stalls had a 2.5 inch gap at the back of the each stall. During renovations the raised hallway was extended by pouring concrete to partially cover this gap. This solution worked well, and was less costly than covering the gap with stainless slats.  Approximately 10-15% of the individual slats had to be replaced.


Old disc chain will be suspended from the ceiling as object enrichment.


Adjusting management for sows in groups is an ongoing challenge for barn staff. One issue is scheduling; the sows are fed once per day and staff need to be on hand at feeding to check for health issues and identify any sows that should be treated or removed. This means many staff are needed during feeding, rather than being able to check on sows any time during the day, as was done with stalls.

Bred sows are pregnancy checked and kept in stalls until day 40 of gestation.  At day 40 sows are sorted by size/parity and moved into the group pens. Currently there is about one sow per pen that is removed, giving a dropout rate of about 12%. Ideally this will drop off once the herd and barn staff have adjusted to shoulder stall pens.