The parade of retailers, foodservice giants and further processors pledging to take gestation stalls out of their supply chain look like a costly upheaval of pork production processes, but economic analyst Steve Meyer says that’s not necessarily the case.
Meyer, head of Paragon Economics in Adel, Iowa, points out that the long horizon time on most of the pledges — 10 to 15 years — means that producers have a much better chance of reaching the end of their current equipment’s useful life before having to revamp the barns.
“if I can wear out the equipment and replace it with something different when it’s worn out, then the cost to that is very little,” Meyer said, speaking to the annual convention of the American Association of Meat Processors.
A bigger issue that Meyer says could be in the industry’s future is whether the animal welfare activists who have pushed to eliminate gestation stalls, primarily the Humane Society of the United States, redirect their efforts to eliminate the stalls in the first 35 days after farrowing.
During that period, the sows are physically depleted from suckling their most recent litter, which may be a dozen or more piglets, and they have been implanted with embryos for the next round. Until they regain their strength and the embryos have attached and are growing, it’s far more advisable to keep the sows separated to eliminate fighting.
“You wean the sow and put them in the stall until they’re confirmed pregnant. That’s a critical period,” Meyer says. “From then on [there isn’t much risk]. If you have to mix those sows right after farrowing it’s going to get ugly, because then it’s going to affect productivity.” The fighting that typically occurs in group housing could injure the sow and cause the loss of the embryos.
So far, HSUS and other activist groups have not pushed to put the sows in group housing during that post-farrowing phase.
“During that period, gestation stalls are clearly in the sow’s best interests,” Meyer says.