Animal Welfare - Frequently-asked questions

Animals (general)
Do the cows (or animals in general) go outside?

In the winter, the dairy cows spend time outdoors in the barnyard when weather conditions will safely permit. During the spring, summer, and fall, dairy cows spend their evenings in a pasture where they have access to fresh grass and hay. The museum’s annual milk quality certifications are a testament to the strong health of these dairy cows, and the excellent care they receive.  

The museum’s beef herd and horses have access to outdoor spaces throughout the year.

The goats, sheep, donkey, alpacas, rabbits, and poultry are outdoors in a pasture throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

The pigs are let out of their stalls in the morning when staff arrive to clean. They let them out one at a time, to stretch and do a few laps around the enclosed pens that surround them. 

Pigs
Why are your pigs kept in separate stalls?

There are many reasons why our pigs are kept in large individual pens:

  1. Each breed has different nutritional needs, and we typically have one example of each breed. 
  2. Sows require different care at different stages of gestation. We try very hard to have one sow farrowing each month, so that no two are simultaneously at the exact same stage of pregnancy.
  3. Animal safety is a concern. There are some very aggressive sows, as well as a few timid sows. They can severely injure each other if kept together.
  4. Conception rates greatly increase when the sow is in a low stress/individual care environment during the first 35 days of pregnancy (when the embryos attach to the uterus walls).
  5. It is much easier for visitors to be able to identify a breed when they are on display.
  6. Worker safety is a concern. Since we are in with our sows daily—cleaning and caring for them—it is much safer for our workers to avoid getting in the middle of a fight.
  7. It is very easy to monitor a sow’s health when fed/housed individually, as we can monitor their appetite as well as their manure. This is a quick and early way for detecting an illness.  
  8. Late gestation sows have higher hormone levels, which makes them very aggressive with other sows. 

We do house our piglets together with their litter mates with much success. The litters are all the same breed and age, therefore, they require the same management. 

How big are the stalls?

Our pigs are housed in stalls that are 6 ft. x 15 ft. They have three separate areas so they can be clean and happy; there’s room for them to eat, sleep, and poop in different sections.

Do your pigs get exercise/entertainment?

The pigs are let out of their stalls in the morning when staff arrive to clean. They let them out one at a time to stretch and do a few laps around the enclosed pens that surround them.

Pigs are social and intelligent animals and are often provided toys to help stimulate brain function and physical activity. Pigs are naturally inquisitive, therefore toys provide them with an enriching environment which is good for their overall health.

The use of toys has been proven to help alleviate unwanted behavior, such as aggression with other pigs and tail biting. It also prevents boredom.

We offer our pigs pliable toys in various shapes and sizes in order to help keep them interested, challenged, and engaged. We regularly alternate the toys, introducing new ones to keep them entertained. We hang the toys from the ceiling to keep them clean and to stimulate their desire to explore.

Do you castrate your pigs?

No, we do not castrate our pigs. However, it is a common practice elsewhere.

Do you cut their tails?

No, we do not cut their tails.

What is done to ensure the pigs’ physical health?

We do tag our pigs with a National Identification number; this is a standard practice. We also cut (not pull out) the tips of the piglets "needle" teeth, or incisors; this is called teeth clipping. The purpose is to help prevent injuries that pigs cause to each other, and to the sow's udder and teats.

Cows
What happens to the milk from the cows?

The milk from the museum’s cows goes to the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, to be processed and distributed in grocery stores. 

If humans are drinking a cow’s milk, then that must mean her calf is not. What happens to her calf?

Cows produce much more milk than a calf needs. Our cows’ milk goes to our dairy (eventually for human consumption) and to the calves. 

On our farm, calves are separated from the cows the day after they are born and moved to our dairy barn’s calf wing, where they are fed during the morning and afternoon milkings. They are bottle fed until they are ready to drink from a bucket. 

They are slowly weaned off milk to eat hay and calf-grower feed by the age of 6 months. 
 

How are the calves removed from the mother?

Our farmers walk the calves to the calf wing using a halter.

Who removes the calf and where do the calves go?

See answer in previous question. 

How many times or how many days do you allow a calf to nurse before they take the calf away from the mother?

On our farm, a calf nurses from its mother the day that they are together. 

How many calves does a dairy cow give birth to in her milking lifetime?

The average dairy cow at our farm gives birth to six to eight calves in a lifetime. 

Where do you get your bull semen from, and how?

Our bull semen for the dairy herd is purchased from various companies that keep bulls. These companies harvest the bull semen by collecting their ejaculate in an artificial vagina. Once collected, semen is diluted and stored in tiny straws in liquid nitrogen. It is delivered to the farm and stored in canisters of liquid nitrogen until ready to use. Having semen from a range of different bulls helps maintain genetic diversity in the herd, thus reducing health problems due to inbreeding. 

How do you treat the cows for mastitis?

Prevention and early detection of mastitis is key to avoiding and treating mastitis. Farmers know the signs of mastitis infection and keep an eye on the cows to recognize potential illness. Some types of mastitis heal on their own. Others require antibiotic treatment.

During the treatment period, farmers milk the cow separately and discard it, so it does not enter the food chain. Vets visit our cows every two weeks, in accordance with Herd Health guidelines. 
 

How many male calves are born on average per year?

Approximately 50% of the calves are male, so about 25 per year. 

What is considered optimum milk yield per cow per day?

This depends on the breed. Our museum is an educational facility and showcases many different breeds with different milk production capacities. Production is dynamic and depends on many factors like genetic background, which stage of lactation the cow is in, feed quality, and seasonal changes. 

The average Holstein produces over 10,000 kilos of milk per year. 

What happens to the cow if she falls below the expected milk production level?

Since we are an educational facility, our goal is not to maximize production. If an animal is healthy, it may be kept in order to showcase the breed. 

Milk production is not necessarily the main criteria for selecting cows in the dairy industry. Overall, animal health and fertility are more important than milk production. 
 

How many dairy cows do you slaughter each year?

We do not slaughter any of our animals. Dairy cows that leave the farm are sold to an auction house. 

Do you perform tail-docking, de-horning, branding, and/or castration procedures?

We do not brand the cows. By law, our animals have ear tags in order to identify them for traceability reasons. 

We have never docked cattle tails. It is also no longer allowed in Ontario. 

At our farm, our animals are disbudded rather than dehorned. When animals are disbudded, they are sedated and receive medication for pain management. 

We do not castrate our cattle. 

How are these procedures performed?

See previous answer. Before the age of two months, the horn buds are not yet attached to the skull. The horn bud is cauterized, preventing the horn-producing cells from developing. Calves undergoing the procedure are sedated and administered painkillers.