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Could Crate-Free Pork Become the New Industry Standard?

California’s tough animal welfare law bans gestation crates for pork production—and producers are bracing for the 2022 deadline.

After graduating from high school in 1987, Tim Brandt started raising hogs on his family’s Ohio farm. Housed in barns with straw-bedded pens, hundreds of pigs moved freely inside and outside. “We had no crates, no stalls, nothing,” he said.

But his life changed when the whole industry began shifting to modernized hog barns lined end to end with small, individual metal stalls to house breeding sows. The new “crate system,” which became steadily more prominent in the 1980s and 90s, promised increased productivity and decreased labor.

But in Brandt’s experience, his pigs were stressed out, screaming every time he entered the barn, and they produced fewer piglets. “I totally regretted it,” he said.

Later, Brandt joined Coleman Natural Foods as a contract farmer, and around 2017, the brand committed to sourcing crate-free pork from its suppliers. So, Brandt jettisoned the cages in his barns, housed sows in social groups of 50, and hasn’t looked back.

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