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WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Private Canadian pork producer duBreton said on Thursday it plans to raise 300,000 additional pigs during the next three years without housing them in crates, as it seeks premium prices from food stores and restaurants for meat raised humanely.
Larger Canadian rivals Olymel LP and Maple Leaf Foods Inc are already converting all of their own barns to crate-free, or open-housing, by 2022 and 2017 respectively, company spokesmen said.
Conventional farms raise sows in crates that measure two feet by seven feet (0.6 m by 2.1 m), preventing them from turning around. Raising pigs crate-free means they can roam in a communal environment.
Other parts of the food-production chain are also under pressure from consumers to raise animals more humanely. McDonalds Corp pledged this month to phase out eggs laid by caged hens within a decade.
It costs 50 percent more to raise pigs without crates, but producers command higher prices to more than make up for it, duBreton President Vincent Breton said in an interview.
He said duBreton guarantees the farms from which it buys crate-free hogs their cost of production plus a margin.
"We think it is important for the smaller farm to have a niche to survive," he said. "It brings the lows of the market out of the equation."
The increase in crate-free production will cost duBreton C$30 million ($22.49 million). Its customers include grocers Whole Foods Market Inc and Empire Co Ltd's Sobeys, as well as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.
The Quebec-based company currently slaughters about 1 million pigs per year at Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec. Breton declined to say how many of those pigs currently come from crate-free farms.
$1 = 1.3340 Canadian dollars Editing by Marguerita Choy