MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — Maple Leaf Foods Inc. announced on Oct. 9 that it converted more than 40,000 sows, or 50 percent of its herd, to its open sow housing system.

The company is planning a complete transition to all open sow housing by the end of 2021. This project involves Maple Leaf Foods reconstructing 31 barns at the cost of C$55 million.

"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 of 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."

Maple Leaf added that pregnant sows would live in open pens 100 percent of the time with this new system. The company said the open sow project took almost 10 years to research and design.

"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 at Maple Leaf Foods. "Our advanced open sow housing and transportation systems reflect our commitment to learning, change and leadership in animal care."

An observation barn was also built in Manitoba to provide visitors with an overhead view of all aspects of sow housing.

Along with the open housing system and observation facility, Maple Leaf plans to transition its trailer fleet to a new hydraulic floor lift transportation system. According to the company, the changes eliminate narrow, steep ramps used to load animals onto upper floors in conventional trailers and reduces stress and potential injuries to the animals.