Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Pig whisperer' urges an end to mega-barns

More freedom for hogs in Europe

  • Print

The "pig whisperer" is trying to soothe an embattled hog industry in Manitoba.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the University of Manitoba on Thursday, Dr. Kees Scheepens, a veterinarian and sow farmer from the Netherlands, is an advocate for a less-intensive hog production system.

Dubbed the pig whisperer for his rather unique ability to 'communicate' with swine, Scheepens provided a European view on what the hog industry in Canada should aspire to look like, using his own backyard as the basis for his argument.

Scheepens said the Netherlands, a country of 16 million people and 12 million pigs, is a prime example of how a hog industry can work in conjunction with everyday life. There are some 2,500 non-corporate lots, with each farm containing about 400 animals.

On top of that, more than 75 per cent of those barns have made the move from a gestation stall configuration to a group housing, straw-feed system.

Smaller is better, according to Scheepens, and when you look at the environmental moves the Dutch have instituted over the years -- upgrades in both manure management and air washing to remove the smell -- while getting away from the mega-barn, his point gives local producers something to chew on. "How big does a company need to be?" he said. "Let's go back to a human size of industry and let's go back to a human size of farming. Let humans be humans and let pigs be pigs."

Vicki Burns, former director of the Winnipeg Humane Society who now oversees the Lake Winnipeg Watershed Initiative, wonders why the industry is waiting so long to make the switch.

"The problem is, when you keep any animal so confined for its entire adult life that it cannot even turn around, that is basically not humane," Burns said.

"We don't need to make the argument any more complex than that."

That argument, however, comes with a high cost. At a time when Manitoba hog producers are stretched to the limit by a drop in animal prices and any consumer fallout to a swine flu epidemic, moving away from gestation crates is next to impossible.

Marg Rempel owns a small sow operation near Ste. Anne, and at any one time she'll have about 5,000 animals in her barns. She is open to the group housing system, but changing over the stalls she has would cost roughly $1,000 per unit, so making the switch right now is a major financial concern -- and one that simply isn't in the cards.

"The change is (determined) by financial viability to move in that direction," she said. "For me to exist, I still have to be able to pay the bills."

In Canada, major producers (Smithfield, Maple Leaf) have announced they are phasing out the gestation stalls by 2017, perhaps making way for smaller, more humane barns in the future.

The movement towards a more wide-open space for hogs is already underway around the world. In Europe, all 27 countries have started the process to get rid of adult gestation stalls by 2012 and in the United States, individual jurisdictions have begun phasing out the stalls before the end of the decade. Major food service companies (Safeway, McDonald's) have announced they will be buying more of their meat from farms that do not use the confinement crates.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2010 B10

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Grandmother of house fire victims shares memories of four boys killed

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 101130-Winnipeg Free Press Columns of light reach skyward to the stars above Sanford Mb Tuesday night. The effect is produced by streetlights refracting through ice crystals suspended in the air on humid winter nights. Stand Up.....
  • Hay bales sit under a rainbow just west of Winnipeg Saturday, September 3, 2011.(John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos


What should the Esplanade Riel's next tenant be?

View Results

Ads by Google