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. 

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 slaughter your pigs?

No, we do not slaughter our pigs; we are not a slaughterhouse.

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.

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 days after separation from her calf does the mother continue to bellow, searching for her calf?

In our experience, this is not a reaction that the cows have when their calves are removed, since they are separated early and have not yet formed a bond. 

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. 

At what age is a maiden cow artificially impregnated?

On our farm, heifers are usually inseminated between 16 and 20 months. For the physiological health of the animals, farmers wait until a heifer is of appropriate calf-bearing age and weight. 

Animals in the wild start bearing calves at a much younger age, usually as soon as they show signs of heat. In dairy cows, this might be as early as six months. 

How is that done?

At the museum, when a cow is showing signs of ovulation, one of the farmers (who receive extensive training) will manually artificially inseminate the cow. Artificial insemination involves placing a small amount of bull semen into the cow’s uterus. The farmer inserts their arm into the cow’s rectum to hold the cervix in place. They lead the insemination rod through the opening of the cervix to deposit the semen.

Do you use the industry standard apparatus called a ‘rape rack’ to impregnate cows?

We have no knowledge of the apparatus you are referring to. It’s not an industry standard to restrain cows during artificial insemination. Dairy cows are artificially inseminated while in their stalls. Our beef cows are either inseminated by our bull or by artificial insemination, on site or in their pens. Artificial insemination is only done when the cow is in standing heat (ovulating) and receptive. 

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. 

Cows have a natural lifespan of 20 plus years. How old are the dairy cows when they get sent to slaughter?

On average in the industry, a dairy cow is sold after three to five lactations – which is around five to seven years old. Depending on a cow’s overall health and genetic makeup, she may be kept for a shorter or longer period of time. 

At our museum, we send our dairy cows to auction when they are approximately 10 years old. Since the museum is an educational institution, cows may be kept for reasons other than milk production. For instance, we may keep a cow to showcase a breed, regardless of her age or ability to produce milk. 

Mastitis is such a common problem for factory farmed cows. What are your blood and pus levels?

Mastitis is a common issue for all mammals, including humans. 

By blood and pus levels, I believe you are referring to somatic cell count. The farm is part of the Dairy Herd Improvement program, and our milk is tested once per month for somatic cells. 

White blood cells (leukocytes) constitute the majority of somatic cells. Somatic cell count (SCC) is the total number of cells per millilitre in milk. Our somatic cell count level (herd average) is just below 100,000. The industry’s average is 200,000. The penalty level starts at 400,000. 

To put these numbers in perspective, a SCC of 100,000 or less indicates an 'uninfected' cow, one that does not suffer from mastitis. 

Somatic cells are found in the milk of all lactating mammals and do not pose a risk to human health. 

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 often do you have downed cows?

Downed cows are not common at the museum, since we do a lot of preventative care to avoid this. Nightly pasture turn out from June to October supports herd health. Proper care and follow up after calving is also crucial in keeping cows healthy. 

How many male calves are born on average per year?

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

Are male calves raised for slaughter, killed for veal, or discarded/killed/left to die?

Our museum never leaves animals to die. We provide appropriate care and treatment for all our animals. All male calves born at the museum are eventually sold to an auction house. The age of sale varies between three days and several months. 

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. 

If a visitor came back a year from now, how many of the current dairy cows would still be alive?

The vast majority of the dairy cows would still be at the museum. We do not have a high turnover. From June to September, our dry cows are in the pasture off Ash Lane at the Central Experimental Farm so they might not be in the barn at that time for visitors to see. Some healthy cows are sold to the auction house to be purchased by other farms. 

Where are the cows slaughtered?

We do not slaughter our cattle. If they leave the farm, they are sold to an auction house. There, other farmers or processors can purchase them. 

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.