It said it has converted more than 40,000 sows, or over 50% of its herd, to its advanced open sow housing system, It described the system, which has taken 10 years to design as a “superior approach to husbandry”.
The company said it is on track to transition all sows under its management by the end of 2021 and become the first large-scale producer to achieve this milestone in North America.
The approach involves reconstructing 31 barns at a total estimated cost of approximately $55 million to meet the requirements of the National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Practice.
The vast majority of the North American industry confines pregnant sows 100% of the time in restrictive gestation stalls. Most conventional open sow housing systems continue to house sows an average of 42 days in stalls during early pregnancy.
However, the Maple Leaf system allows the pregnant sows to live 100% of the time in open pens, where they are free to move, feed and socialise with other animals.
"We have a bold vision to be the most sustainable protein company on earth and our investments and actions to become a leader in animal care are critical to advancing our progress," said Michael H. McCain, president and CEO, Maple Leaf Foods.
"Our research and investment in an advanced open sow housing system is best in class in North America, leading to significantly better lives for the animals and, combined with our expertise in raising animals without antibiotics, provides a unique market advantage for Maple Leaf."
The company said it has built an observation barn in Manitoba, which provides a complete overhead view of all aspects of sow housing through large glass windows.
Maple Leaf also revealed it is also transitioning its trailer fleet to a new hydraulic floor lift transportation system that eliminates narrow steep ramps used to load animals, and significantly reduces stress and potential injuries.
"Our focus is on providing the best, most humane care possible for animals, involving extensive research, staff training and investment in innovation," said Dr. Greg Douglas, vice president, animal care.
"Our advanced open sow housing and transportation systems reflect our commitment to learning, change and leadership in animal care."