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Open Housing Not Necessarily Better, but Definitely More Expensive

We’ve been talking to three segments of the pork production industry about the McDonald’s corporation announcement that they will soon require their suppliers to use an open housing system, versus a gestation crate system for their pregnant sows.

Don Butler, Director of Government Relations and public Affairs for Murphy Brown explains the two types of systems that their corporate farms are converting to:

“we give our production management leaders the options of using different types of group housing arrangements. The type that’s being implemented east of the Mississippi is what we refer to as small groups of six, would be in a common pen. In the west, our folks out there have chosen a different system, and it’s the one that’s referred to in the industry as a free choice housing arrangement, and it works pretty well. It involves larger groups of sows, inside that pen are individual stalls where sows can go in to feed, lie down and rest, in fact they can go in and close the door behind themselves, which I find really interesting. And many of them do. The behavior that we’ve observed in that system is that 90% of the sows, if not more choose to stay in individual spaces more than 90% of the time.”

Therefore, casual behavioral observation would lend one to believe that having a private space is preferred by the animals…the very thing that animal rights activist groups are working against.

Dr. Gene Nemechek, swine veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health gives an estimation of the number of pork producers in North Carolina that could eventually be affected by these changes:

“Well, I think it could probably be 90% plus, that would be affected by it, because most of them are supplying product to large packing companies and they in turn supply McDonalds with their product. So, I think would be a very high number that would be affect by this.”

But, in the end, while he doesn’t believe in the open housing system, Tommy Porter, farrow-to-wean producer near Concord, North Carolina says that if forced, he’ll switch, but it will come with a cost for all of us:

“This is the way we make our livelihood, this the lifestyle that my family loves, so we will adapt, and do what we have to do. but it we’re given the option of closing the doors, of you’ve got to change, then we will adapt to what we have to, and we’ll make it work. And production costs will go up so the consumer will be paying more for their food. You know, yeah, it may take a while, and the farmer may suffer for a while, but eventually people’s food prices will go up, there’ll be no way around it.” 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.