The National Sow Housing Conversion Project (NSHCP) is a collaborative research project that brings together the latest scientific, industry and government expertise on group sow housing and what is needed for successful barn conversions.
Project participants include Canadian scientists and producers with expertise and experience in group sow housing, collaborating in a comprehensive national strategy to facilitate knowledge transfer and support to Canadian producers considering the conversion to group sow housing.
Our goal is to facilitate the successful adoption of group housing and effective management methods, ensuring that the transition results in housing and management that is profitable and meets the needs of sows and producers. These changes will also meet changing expectations within the marketplace, helping to ensure markets for Canadian pork products both at home and abroad.
Why was the NSHCP developed?
The NSHCP was developed in response to the increasing pressure on the Canadian pork industry to convert from stalls to group housing for gestating sows. A large number of North American food retailers have issued statements pledging to source their pork supplies exclusively from stall-free systems within the next 5 to 10 years.
In addition to these market demands, the Canadian Code of Practice for the care and handling of pigs (2014), which defines the basic standards for pig housing and management, requires that, as of July 1, 2014, all new buildings and renovations must accommodate sows in groups during gestation. Existing buildings that do not undergo renovation can continue to operate with stalls, with additional requirements for providing greater freedom of movement as of July 1, 2024. Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs
In order to meet the increasing demands of packers and retailers for pork produced in group systems, and to meet requirements of the Code of Practice, Canadian producers need to consider their options and how to begin the conversion to groups.
There are several options for housing sows in groups, with differing management practices and potential advantages and disadvantages to each. The NSHCP will provide information and support for system selection and design, and facilitate the successful adoption of group housing systems by Canadian producers. Our aim is to ensure producers are well informed on the management pros and cons of each system, and the related cost of conversion. Providing this information and support to Canadian producers will aid the efficient adoption of group housing.
Project outline and objectives
The goal of the NSHCP is to assist Canadian pork producers in the transition to group-housing systems for sows by providing technical and engineering support for barn renovations, and documenting renovations on commercial farms in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The project will:
- Record pig management and productivity before and after the transition
- Document the renovation process, management changes and costs
- Provide up-to-date scientific information on group-housing options
Overall, the project will supply science-based technical information to producers to aid in a sustainable and productive transition to group-housing.
The NSHCP has six specific objectives, including:
- Establishment a national working group on sow housing (the NSHWG): This will consist of pork producer representatives, animal scientists, engineers and industry leaders who will participate in the project and be a source of information for producers seeking assistance.
- Development a portal for easily accessible information on group sow housing: Develop and disseminate group sow housing factsheets in French and English, covering system designs and concepts. (via websites of the five participating provincial pork organizations, the Prairie Swine Centre and the Quebec Swine Development Centre (CDPQ)).
- Identification of four regional demonstration barns: Identify four commercial barns making the conversion from stalls to group housing between 2014 and 2017, with two barns based in the West (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and/or Alberta), and two in the East (Ontario and Québec). Selected barns will vary in herd size and the group sow system implemented, thus showcasing a variety of options and becoming primary regional demonstration barns.
- Documentation of barn conversions from stalls to groups: We will document the conversion of regional demonstration barns, with collaboration between the producers, engineers (FGC Ltd and the University of Manitoba) and animal scientists, to determine the best fit group sow housing option for the barn, and documentation of the conversion process: including the pre-conversion barn layout and sow performance, the barn conversion process, the post-conversion barn layout, post-conversion sow herd performance and documentation of problems encountered, the solutions developed and training requirements of staff.
- Documentation of ten secondary sites: Document ten additional barn sites that have already transitioned to group sow housing, having either converted from stalls, or built new. The layout, the reasons behind converting, the pros and cons of the system, challenges encountered and how they were overcome, along with sow performance figures post conversion will be documented. Barns acting as secondary sites will be located in both Eastern and Western Canada, providing further examples of successful transitions to group sow housing.
- Validate the Conversion Design Utility as a tool for developing barn conversion designs: Using information collected from the four (primary) regional demonstration sites, validate the group sow housing conversion model developed by the University of Manitoba, making any necessary alterations to refine the model as a tool for barn renovations.
The National Sow Housing Conversion Project is a 4 year project (2014-2017) funded by Swine Innovation Porc through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and by provincial pork organizations, Ontario Pork, the Manitoba Pork Council, Sask Pork and Alberta Pork.