While animal rights groups continue to put pressure on government to ban the use of sow stalls, Manitoba pork producers are weighing their options for animal housing.

The Manitoba Pork Council has set a target of 2025 as the date for producers to move away from the use of stalls.

"We think 2025 gives producers a good opportunity that when they need to do a renovation on their barns they can convert over to a group housing system," explains Mark Fynn, MPC animal care specialist. "We think that beyond that time it could be too much of a risk to still be in stalls because of some of the consumer pressures that we're starting to see, especially overseas."

He says there could potentially be economic justification for moving toward more open-style housing.

"Sometimes we look at this issue from a negative viewpoint in the sense that we see it being forced upon us, but there definitely are opportunities and emerging markets, especially with the European Union free trade agreement," he explains.

The Pork Council is involved in a study looking at factors in successful sow barn conversion.

"It's looking at what has been cited in scientific literature as far as group housing goes, how it should be managed, some of the design factors involved, the economic factors involved," says Fynn. "It's going to specifically look at conversions, moreso than building new, because that's what a lot of our producers are going to have to consider."

Down the road, Manitoba Pork may even issue a "how-to" guide for switching to group housing.

"It's definitely not as simple as just changing the equipment in a barn. A lot of it will be on management. I see that guide covering concepts a lot more than giving any black and white designs. It will be very conceptual," he says.