The much anticipated draft Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs released by the National Farm Animal Care Council signals change is coming to the industry’s use of sow gestation stalls and other herd management practices such as castration.
“In well-managed and -designed housing systems, it is possible to achieve equal or better productivity and health in group housing systems compared to individual gestation stalls through science and innovation,” reads the very first section of the draft code.
The draft document goes on to note sows are often housed in stalls too small and that they routinely exhibit behaviours indicating stress, such as bar biting, sham chewing and excessive drinking.
But the yet-to-be finalized code of practice stops short of banning gestation stalls all together, allowing them to be used for up to 35 days per cycle.
“Due to the inherent aggressive nature of sows, a combination of group housing with a short period of stall housing can assist in minimizing injuries, improving body condition and can facilitate confirming pregnancy after breeding,” the draft reads.
However, as of July 1, 2024 the standard-size sow stall of 58 to 60 cm wide may not be large enough to meet the new requirements of the updated code of practice.
New requirements for gestation stalls are outlined in the draft code and state sows must be able to stand up at rest without simultaneously touching both sides of the stall and be able to lie down without their udders protruding into adjacent stalls.
Sows must also be able to stand up without touching the top bars, and be able to stand in the stall without simultaneously touching both ends of the structure.
Issues of pain control during castration are also addressed in the updated code, which stipulates that castration done at any age must be performed using analgesics to help control post-procedure pain as of July 2019.
Dr. Carol Morgan, a pig welfare specialist representing the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) during the draft process, points out that other nations, such as those in the European Union, are phasing out castration entirely by 2018.
“That’s the ideal solution, but meat processors in Canada refuse to accept uncastrated males. It’s a problem with processors not producers,” said Morgan.
But overall, CFHS said it welcomes the move to restrict the use of gestation stalls.
“Science has shown that when confined in sow stalls, pigs experience extreme stress and frustration because they are unable to turn around or express natural behaviours,” said Barbara Cartwright, federation CEO. “It’s like being stuck in an airline seat for your life.”
The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) co-ordinates the work on codes, in conjunction with a two-committee process — a Code Development Committee and a Scientists’ Committee.
“The Code Development Committee has worked to develop the draft code since 2010 and the public comment period will allow us to extend the conversation to a broader group,” said Florian Possberg, pork producer and chair of the Code Development Committee in a Canadian Pork Council release. “We welcome all comments and will be reviewed by the code committee.”
“The Canadian Pork Council and its members are encouraging producers to carefully review the text of the draft code and submit comments,” said Jean-Guy Vincent, chair of the Canadian Pork Council in a release. “The public comment period is a critical part of the process. As it will fall to producers to implement the code, it is essential for producers to review the draft text and respond with informed and constructive input.”
The comment period on the draft code is open until August 3. The full code and online comment is available at: http://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pigs.