Animal Care Assessment Tool Space Allowance Provisions Create Concern

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2145. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.
calendar icon 22 May 2006
clock icon 7 minute read

Farm-Scape, Episode 2145

Officials with the Canadian Pork Council are planning to take steps to clarify space allowance calculations under the agency’s Animal Care Assessment Tool (ACA) in response to questions which have been raised by several producers who are considering becoming validated under the new program.

The voluntary animal welfare audit was developed as a separate stand alone component of the Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA) program, the hog industry’s on farm food safety program. The package was created to address public concerns related to animal wefare both in Canada and internationally. The intent is to integrate the two programs and to utilize the same delivery mechanism and the same on-farm auditors.

Although producers have been highly supportive of the initiative there have been questions raised related to the allocation of space per pig.

Key Concerns Apparent in the Finisher Barn

“The concern is that the finisher space requirement is too restrictive. That the program is requiring more space on a per animal basis than is currently being provided by producers who are having no problems with animal performance or health or well-being,” says CQA national coordinator Dawn Lawrence.

She explains, “Currently the space allowance requirements are based on the code of practice for pigs and we have a ten percent allowance in that so up to ten percent less than what is currently being recommended will be accepted by the program.”

However she notes, “Basically we have producers who are telling us that the space allowance they have per animal is less than what is required for the ACA program but they’re reporting to us and providing data for us that it’s not negatively affecting the health or performance of the animals. So we’re going to take another look at that to see how everything is defined and make sure it’s clear and not going to put restrictions on producers that we can’t work with.”

Performance Not Negatively Impacted by Higher Density

“We had a few farms in Alberta who have raised some concerns about that,” says Alberta Quality Pork Manager Sarah Turner. “These farms are ones that keep extremely good record keeping systems with regards to mortality rates also their average daily gains and feed conversion ratios.”

She notes, “They stock at a higher density than what the tool requires. Having said that, they have excellent feed conversion and their mortality rates are extremely low, less than 0.5 percent, and they have extremely low carcass trim rates at the processing plants as well.” As a result, she says, “They’ve challenged us to look at those stocking densities.”

Concerns Surface as Pigs Reach the End of the Growth Cycle

The primary concern revolves around the allocation of space as the pig approaches market weight. Variability in weight further complicates the issue. “Growth in the finishing barn is very unique,” states Miles Beaudin Manitoba Pork Council’s swine production specialist and CQA coordinator.

He observes “Producers are very interested in it [the Animal Care Assessment Tool].” However, he notes, “Because we’re a mature audience, we know that we need to make sure that this tool works out for all producers. It has to be worded properly, it has to be complete and workable for every type of operation in Manitoba.”

He points out, “Some people ship market weights at 240 pounds or 113 kilograms for Manitoba [processors]. There’s producers that produce pigs at about 280 pounds for the U.S. market, so this tool has to work for everybody.”

He notes, “In week one to week ten there’s a lot of room. Things start to really change in week 11, 12 and 13. That's when our square footage's tend to get critical. We need to understand that a little better to make sure the program can work in the finishing barns in Manitoba, either continuous flow or all-in-all-out and for all market weights, either the Canadian market weight or the American market weight.”

He suggests, “You could not calculate space requirements on face value just by total square footage and total number of pigs. There’s a whole bunch of dynamics occurring between the beginning and the complete ending of the production cycle within a finishing barn, so that needed to be fully understood and clearly laid out for a producer to calculate his own square footages.”

Research Supports Existing Practices

Harvey Wagner, manager of producer services with the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board, agrees, “One of the things of the things that wasn’t absolutely clear was the space allowance under the code of practice.”

“There was research that was being done at the Prairie Swine Centre to determine what the best practical space allowance based on the physiology of the pigs and also on growth of the pigs and their behavior would be.” Based on that research, Wagner says, “It appears that current industry practice is correct so there won’t have to be any significant adjustments on space for most farms.”

He concedes, “Some farms may have to adjust some of their practices and how they handle pigs when they ship the pigs, whether they refill those spaces or not. But the practice on most farms is right bang on with what research has found to be the best space allowance for finishing pigs.”

Further Clarification Requested

Beaudin notes, “We fully support it [ACA], but again we’re just a little cautious to create the momentum for the implementation on all of our farms. Again nothing has really been changed because it's been adopted by a whole bunch of agencies. It's just that we don't want producers to be confused. We want everything to be laid out clearly.”

Turner points out, “It [the space allowance issue] is being addressed at the national level. Its being reviewed and determined what can be done to come to some sort of happy medium to look at farms that do have that type of record keeping system and can prove that the health status of the animals is high and that the welfare of the animals within the barn is very good.”

She suggests, “We need to look at some of those other variables in the barn as well such as what is the feed conversion, what is the management of the animals by the people within the barn?”

She stresses, “One of the things with animal welfare, and animal care and production in general, is a system is only as good as the people working within it. At the end of the day good stock people make the biggest impact upon animal well being and also, when we look at our food safety program as well, a really well trained and knowledgeable stock person really makes a program and makes a barn run well.”

Additional Adjustments to be Expected

Lawrence notes, “We don’t expect to make any major changes to the materials themselves probably for the next year or so but, as we saw with the CQA program, when we first launched it we had a few questions that were a little more difficult to describe and explain and have implemented on the program. I think the space requirement question for ACA is going to be something similar and what we’ll do with the program is simply address it as we move along, provide fact sheets and assistance to the producers and the official versions of the materials will be updated as we get everything clarified.”

Turner concludes, “With any new program there’s always going to be growing pains and those are to be expected. The fact that issues like this are being raised are very positive because it means that producers are taking the program seriously, taking a good look at the requirements, wanting to make sure that they can meet them.”

She describes the fact that producers are expressing concern as, “A very positive sign that the producers in Canada are working hard to ensure that they are doing the best job possible.”

For Farmscape.Ca, I'm Bruce Cochrane.

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