DES MOINES – The overwhelming majority of the US sow herd is housed, at some point, in individual housing, or gestation stalls, according to a National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) survey.

The survey found that only 17.3 percent of sows spend a portion of gestation in open pens, according to NPPC. Ron Plain, a Univ. of Missouri extension economist, conducted the survey of pork facilities with 1,000 or more sows. He received 70 responses which combined for roughly 3.6 million of the nation’s 5.7 million sows, NPPC. The council said the survey results reinforce NPPC’s concern about companies announcing they will source only pork from suppliers that use group housing.

“Today’s survey shows that these food companies obviously haven’t thought through the complexities, logistics or implications of their requests,” said R.C. Hunt, NPPC president, and a pork producer from Wilson, NC. “Simply making an announcement without understanding the entire supply chain’s ability to meet these requests or the challenges involved is utterly befuddling. We feel it is important to have this first-hand information available to our customers.”

However, Plain's survey found that some operators used a combination of group housing and gestation stalls. Roughly 20.2 percent of sows on operations of 1,000-9,999 sows, 18.9 percent on operations of 10,000-99,999 and 16.4 percent on operations of more than 100,000 are in open pens for some portion of gestation, according to the survey. When asked about plans to put more sows in open pens, the largest operations indicated that 23.8 percent of their sows would be in them in two years, operations of 10,000-99,999 sows would have 21.3 of their pigs in open pens and operations of 1,000-9,999 would have 20.7 percent.

“Given that few sows always are in open housing and that producers may use both individual and group housing, it would be extremely difficult and costly for the pork supply chain to sort, segregate and trace product to meet the requirements of these food companies,” Hunt said. “Regardless, this issue is about giving animals the best care possible, and hog farmers like me know through years of experience that individual housing provides that best care.”