The Colorado Pork Producers Council (CPPC) has announced plans to begin phasing in group housing for pregnant sows on hog farms over a 10-year period, according to a new release dated Dec. 18.

“Although animal welfare experts and professional groups have found no one method of housing gestating sows that is clearly better than the other, when managed properly, some concerns have been voiced about the use of individual stalls for pregnant sows,” explains Ivan Steinke, executive director of the CPPC. “Individual stalls, the standard practice used in the swine industry, are used to provide for the health, safety and well-being for each gestating sow.”

However, Steinke adds: “To address public concerns and changing market conditions, Colorado’s pork producers will embark on a 10-year phase-in that will allow producers to thoroughly evaluate and determine the best animal welfare practices for group housing. Producers may need to reconfigure their farms, acquire new equipment and staff appropriately in order to provide the best animal care with group housing systems.”

Temple Grandin, internationally recognized expert on animal handling and professor at Colorado State University, commended the decision. “A 10-year phase-in period of group housing will be needed to allow producers to change pig genetics and train management to the new system,” she says.

Jill Appell, president of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), says animal activist groups sometimes sway public perception into wrongly believing that sow gestation stalls can be cruel.

NPPC’s belief is there may be more than one suitable option for sow housing. However, it should be up to the individual pork producer to decide on the sow housing system that best fits his/her operation or management style, whether it be individual stalls or group housing.

“We stand by our policy that there is more than one way to manage sows,” stresses the Altona, IL pork producer. “We try to make sure our producers know there are many ways they can use to take care of their pigs that are animal friendly and they should decide what works best for them while understanding the alternatives.”

The pork industry’s Pork Quality Assurance Level 3 program contains a section on animal well-being that provides this information, she says.

Colorado has about 150,000 sows, a good percentage of which are already being phased out of stalls as part of Smithfield Foods’ decision in late January to phase out use of gestation stalls at its 187 company-owned sow farms over a 10-year period.