Cargill's upgrades of an idled hog farm in Dalhart, Texas included construction of sow barns containing group housing.

WICHITA, Kan. – Cargill's company owned sow facilities will be converted to group housing by the end of 2015, while contract farms that house Cargill-owned sows will transition to 100 percent group housing by the end of 2017.

Company owned sows represent roughly 30 percent of the total hogs slaughtered annually at Cargill's two pork processing facilities in Illinois and Iowa.

“Over the past two years, many of our retail, foodservice and food processing customers have made decisions about future sourcing of pork products from suppliers that use group housing for gestating sows,” said Mike Luker, president of Wichita-based Cargill Pork. “While Cargill was a pioneer in the use of group housing for gestating sows dating back more than a decade, in the past few years growing public interest in the welfare related to animals raised for food has been expressed to our customers and the pork industry.

“Both group housing and individual housing have pros and cons, and we continue to learn, and evolve best practices from our transition to group housing,” Luker added. “While an industry change of this magnitude is challenging and costly, we believe it is the right thing to do for the long term future of pork production in the US, and our customers agree with us and support our decision. Nevertheless, we need to be mindful that many family farms involved with raising hogs have their life savings invested in their operations and it will require time and other resources if they choose to make a conversion to group housing.”

Cargill has maintained 50 percent group housing for company-owned sows for several years. But the 2011 acquisition of an idled hog farm in the Texas Panhandle allowed the company to achieve 100 percent group housing for gestating sows. Cargill invested more than $60 million over three years to buy and renovate the 22,000 acre property near Dalhart, Texas. Upgrades included construction of sow barns and conversion of gestation crates, according to Cargill. The Dalhart facility employs more than 300 workers.