No Easy Trick to Transition to Open Housing for Sows

Yesterday we heard from three segments of the pork industry on The McDonald’s Corporation’s decision to work with its pork suppliers to phase out what’s known as gestation crates to open housing for pregnant sows.

As we heard yesterday, animal rights advocacy groups have pushed for open housing, and McDonald’s has said that they are simply responding to the concerns of their customers.

Dr. Gene Nemechek, swine veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health says that transitioning of sow housing is no easy or inexpensive feat, with consequences for the consumer:

“These changes will require a lot of maintenance, and upkeep on the building and a change in the whole building style, and so it’s going to cost a considerable amount of money for most producers to change over to this new style, especially if it has to be done immediately. And then because they have an extra investment in the production of the pork, I think one of their concerns will be if people are going to be willing to pay higher prices for product after this is all completed.”

Don Butler, Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs with Murphy Brown, echoes Dr. Nemechek:
“It’s quite a complicated process. First of all it requires more square footage, so, if you have a farm, for example, that has ‘x’ number of sows in it, and you want to maintain that same number of sows on that farm, you either have to build a new building, or expand existing structures to accommodate. The other alternative, is if you want to keep the footprint of the buildings the same, you have to reduce the sow numbers. We have to do that in every instance.”

Murphy Brown and their parent company, Smithfield Foods made the commitment in 2007 to phase out gestation crates by 2017.

Tommy Porter, a farrow-to-wean hog producer near Concord, NC feels that moving to open housing is doing the animals a disservice:
“The people that made the decisions would base the decision on scientific fact, and actually what was better for the animals, better for food safety, better for the whole system, they would look at things a little bit different. I think politics, and pressure from some of the racial groups get behind them, and I think too many decisions are made that way instead of based on science.”

Tomorrow, we’ll hear more on the logistics of the transition to open housing for sows on Inside Agriculture. is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.