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Farm animals help topics

Farm animals

To adopt a pig or any other animal from the BC SPCA, please visit our adoptions page. But before you adopt a pig, please consider the diversity of pig needs, which are much different from the needs of a pet dog or cat. For example:

  • How big should you expect a mini, micro or teacup pig to actually grow?
  • cute pigletWhat kind of manners do pigs have – how do they behave?
  • Are pigs compatible with other pets?
  • What do pigs eat?
  • Who will be your pig’s vet, and does your local vet accept pig patients?
  • Should you get a pet pig spayed or neutered?
  • What type of house-training is required?
  • What costs are involved?

Get the answer to these and other important questions on our pet pig information page.

Categories: Adoption, Farm animals

To adopt a chicken or any other animal from the BC SPCA, please visit our adoptions page. But before you decide to raise your own backyard chickens, please consider the following:

  • Does your municipality allow the keeping of backyard chickens?
  • What do chickens eat? What should you feed to chickens?
  • Do you have access to suitable veterinary care in your community?
  • What do you plan to do with your chickens once they stop laying eggs?
  • How will you protect your chickens from bad weather and natural predators?
  • What are you going to do with all that chicken poo?
  • What are the risks associated with owning chickens?
  • How do you transport a chicken? Do you know how to humanely catch a chicken?

Get the answer to these and other important questions on our urban chickens information page.

Categories: Adoption, Farm animals

In the dairy industry, dairy calves are typically separated from their mom, the cow, within 24 to 48 hours after birth. Due to centuries of breeding, dairy cows produce far more milk than one calf can drink, and must be milked soon after giving birth for their own comfort and health. Their breeding also means they generally have poor mothering instincts, so the farmer will move the calf a day or two after birth for its own safety. The calf is given time to have its first meal (called ‘colostrum’) with mom.

Calves are then placed in a group housing system with other calves to ensure they are drinking the right amount of milk and staying warm and healthy. The mother cow’s milk cannot be used for human consumption for the first three days and it is stored for her calf and other calves to drink.

Get the full story about how dairy cattle and their calves are commonly raised in Canada.

Category: Farm animals

Canadian dairy cows produce an average of 30 litres of milk per day. In order to produce milk, cows must give birth to a calf, and typically have their first calf around two years of age. The farmer will begin to rebreed cows two to four months after their last calf depending on the health of the cow.

Once a dairy cow’s milk production decreases to a level at which it is no longer profitable for the farmer to keep the cow, they will be sold at auction or sent for slaughter. On average, Canadian dairy cows leave the farm by five to six years of age, which is much younger than their natural lifespan.

On an SPCA Certified farm or smaller family farm cows are often kept much longer than when they are raised on large-scale farms. The average lifespan of a cow in the SPCA Certified program is 10-11 years of age.

Get the full story about how dairy cattle are raised and handled on Canadian farms.

Category: Farm animals

Egg-laying hens are typically only kept on an egg farm for one year after they have started laying eggs, and sometimes two years. Although they are still physically able to lay eggs past two years, and their natural life span is much longer (5-11 years), the number of eggs hens lay per year greatly decreases after one year of lay, as does the quality of the egg shell and its contents. At that point, the chicken is considered to be a “spent hen” and is sent for slaughter.

Commercial laying hens are bred to produce high quality eggs. Meat quality (muscle mass) is not a focus in the egg industry, so egg-laying hens tend to have very little muscle mass compared to their meat-bird cousin, the broiler chicken, who has been bred over generations to produce a lot of muscle (mostly breast meat) in a short 6-8 week time span.

Since the meat from laying hens is considered to be of poor quality, it is typically used in canned products like soups, or for pet food.

Get the full story on chicken production in Canada.

Category: Farm animals

Male dairy calves are not typically raised on dairy farms. Only a few bulls are needed for breeding on a dairy farm, and male calves do not grow up to produce milk. The male calves are usually sold to other farms where they are raised for veal (i.e. “young dairy beef”).

Male calves are often moved to a new farm within the first few weeks of life. They are raised on a veal or beef farm to an average of five months of age for milk-fed veal and seven months of age for grain-fed veal.

Get the full story on Canada’s cattle industry.

Category: Farm animals

A farm must first be certified in the SPCA Certified program in order to be allowed to use the SPCA Certified label (the little red barn logo and claim statement) on certified food products. To become certified, the farm must undergo an annual on-farm assessment and third-party review to ensure compliance with SPCA Certified program standards (i.e. the program requirements).

BC SPCA Certified ProgramThe Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has approved use of the SPCA Certified label by SPCA Certified farmers on their certified products. However, certified farmers are not required to use the label, and some of them choose not to for various reasons.

The BC SPCA continues to work with SPCA Certified farmers to incorporate the program label on their certified product packaging, and continues to assist them in promoting their products via other channels (e.g. farm signs, websites).

To ensure the highest animal welfare standards are being met on farm, your best bet is to ask for, and look for, the SPCA Certified label on food products.

Get a list of current SPCA Certified farms or find a retail location near you.

SPCA Certified logoThe SPCA Certified program is a farm animal welfare certification program developed by the BC SPCA to improve the lives of animals raised on farms in Canada. If you can’t find SPCA Certified foods in your area, below is a quick guide on what labels you can look for instead, and what each label means.

Also, feel free to print and distribute any of our informational guides:

Learn more about making humane food choices.


Third-party certifications such as those listed below audit their farms often to verify the farmer is raising animals to a higher standard of animal welfare than what is commonly done in the farming industry. Third-party certifications ensure you get what you pay for when it comes to animal care.

• SPCA Certified • These animals must be cage-free (raised as free run or free range). Their environment allows and encourages them to behave as they would naturally (e.g. rooting, grooming, dust bathing, play, exercise, socializing). SPCA Certified has been reviewed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and is permitted for use on food packaging in Canada. Find SPCA Certified retailers near you!

• Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) • Also referred to as Certified Animal Welfare Approved by a Greener World, AWA animals must be free from confinement housing, have outdoor access and the ability to engage in positive natural behaviours.

• Global Animal Partnership (GAP) • GAP is a 5-step animal welfare rating program. Higher steps (3 and up) require farms to meet strict welfare standards. Lower steps (1-2) facilitate the transition of conventional farms to higher standards, but allow some harmful practices during the transition.

• Certified Organic • The organic label has more to do with the inputs that go into raising the animals – for example, no GMO’s, herbicides, pesticides or medications are permitted. The focus is on ‘natural’. Organic certification has some animal welfare requirements like outdoor access for farm animals, though animal welfare is not the main focus of this certification. See how organic certification compares to conventional farming and SPCA Certified. Be sure to look for the organic label on the product, as some farms make the claim they are organic but don’t actually obtain the certification.


Labels like free run, free range and pasture-raised are not third-party certified but do imply higher animal welfare standards.

• Cage-free • Cage-free animals are not housed in cages, crates or stalls. Cage-free usually applies to egg-laying hens or eggs, but may also apply to pigs or pork (sometimes called ‘crate-free’ or ‘stall-free’ for pork). Did you know cage-free eggs may be healthier for you? (PDF)

• Free run • Free run animals are raised cage-free and indoors. This label is only applicable to egg-laying hens but not turkeys or broiler chickens (raised for meat). All Canadian turkeys and broiler chickens are raised free run unless the label says free range or organic (both of which are also cage-free). This label is not applicable to pork as only parent pigs are housed in crates or stalls, not the young pigs that become pork chops and bacon. Parent pigs usually end up as processed foods or pet food when they are killed.

• Free range • Free range animals are raised cage-free with outdoor access when the weather is good. The quality of the outdoor area varies widely and the amount of time the animals get to spend outdoors is not monitored. If you see this label on pork, be sure to ask whether the parent pigs are housed in stalls/crates, or if they are allowed to roam around outside too.

• Pasture-raised / Pastured • This claim means these animals are raised cage-free outdoors on pasture. However, this claim is currently unregulated, so it may not mean the animals spent their whole lives on pasture.

• Grass-fed, or grass-fed and finished • This claim means these animals have access to pasture and a diet made up of forages, but in Canada the grass-fed claim is not regulated. If you see the grass-fed label used on beef or sheep products, be sure to ask if they were 100% grass-fed and finished, meaning they were finished solely on grass, not grains. Some animals are initially raised on pasture then sent to a crowded dirt feedlot for finishing on grains or corn to fatten them up. Grain/corn is not a natural diet for cattle and sheep and can lead to a host of animal welfare problems, like severe gut pain.


Avoid claims that vaguely imply animal welfare benefits but actually provide little or no improvements, and no certification to verify the claim.

Such labels include: Enriched colony, Comfort Coop, nest-laid, animal-friendly, country fresh, farm fresh, all natural/naturally raised, non-medicated, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, vegetable-fed, grain-fed and Born-3 (Omega-3).

Learn about the top seven most confusing and misleading food labels. These are the ones that tend to fool us most often.

These claims have no verification, certification or proof behind their labels but sound like they benefit animal welfare. When in doubt, always choose a third-party certified food product.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act outlines generally accepted practices of animal management as a reason by which distress is legally acceptable.

Generally accepted practices of animal management are ways of handling or caring for animals that are commonly accepted by society. Sometimes these practices still cause pain, suffering and distress to animals. If the practices haven’t been written down in any official document, it is up to experts like veterinarians and leaders in the relevant industry (such as animal farming, sled dogs, animal breeding or horse racing) to give expert testimony in court when there is an animal neglect or cruelty case.

Animals are better represented when practices are written and agreed to by a committee of experts that includes animal welfare experts. We call these documents ‘Standards‘ or ‘Codes of Practice‘.

The Canadian Organic Standards outline minimum animal welfare expectations for Certified Organic farmers. The standards were updated in 2015 and there were many improvements, most notably:

  • The use of crates for housing/restraining pregnant pigs who are giving birth are now prohibited
  • A ban on tying dairy cows to stalls, effective within 5 years’ time (by 2020)
  • Older “minimum ages” at which lambs, calves, and kits (i.e. baby rabbits) can be weaned from their mother
  • Annual water testing requirements to ensure safe drinking water supplies for farm animals
  • Chickens must be fed at least once daily rather than every other day
  • Farmers are required to document animal welfare issues and create a plan to fix them should such issues arise

Access the complete list of animal welfare improvements (PDF) and the full 2015 Canadian Organic Standard.

In September 2018, the next revision process got underway, with completion of the next Organic Standard anticipated to occur in November 2020. Learn how the BC SPCA is involved in the revision process. To review the current (2015) organic standard and propose a specific revision for the committees to consider, visit the Organic Agriculture web page.

The BC SPCA supports the mission of the organic farming industry and will continue to collaborate with organic associations across Canada on improving farm animal welfare in organic production systems.

The BC SPCA also operates its own in-house farm certification and food labelling program, SPCA Certified, with the aim of further improving animal welfare on farms. The SPCA Certified and organic certification programs are complementary. Learn how they compare (PDF).

The BC SPCA believes that all animals should enjoy, as a minimum, five essential freedoms, which were first described by the Farm Animal Welfare Council of the UK:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  3. Freedom from distress
  4. Freedom from discomfort
  5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being

Happy mixed breed dog lying down being pet by smiling woman

What does animal welfare mean?

The BC SPCA is an animal welfare organization, which means we believe the use of animals for human purposes is justified as long as their welfare is ensured. Animal Welfare means an animal’s quality of life, and it is affected by animals’ physical health and the feelings they experience.

Animals experience good welfare when they are able to experience positive feelings (arising from pleasurable activities and the fulfillment of behavioural needs) and when they are free from poor physical health and negative feelings (such as pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear and frustration).

Animals that are healthy, pain-free, comfortable and unstressed are said to have good welfare.

Close up shot of cute wild common barn owl with sideways tilted head

Dairy products have presented a challenge to our SPCA Certified program because of the way milk is collected. A bulk milk truck collects milk from many farms, pooling (combining) all of the milk into the same tank before bringing it to the processor where it may be pooled again before packaging. In addition, the processor does not have control over which farm’s milk it receives.

SPCA Certified logoUnder this system, dairy products from certified and non-certified farms cannot be distinguished, and therefore, cannot be labeled as SPCA Certified.

To solve this issue, a number of farms need to sign on to a program and work with a milk processor and the BC Milk Marketing Board to implement a system where specific tanker trucks are designated to pick up milk from certified farms.

To jump start this, consumers need to ask for a specialty milk product (like SPCA Certified), giving the processor reason to initiate the discussion with the Milk Marketing Board and the farmers.

This happened with organic dairy products, which is the reason you see more of them in the grocery store. Organic dairy producers have their own milk trucks to prevent mixing of organic milk with non-organic milk, but again, the truck collects milk from many organic farms before emptying the tank.

SPCA Certified farmers want to be able to label their milk and other dairy products as such, but since it can’t be separated from the other non-SPCA-Certified milk, it is not possible unless the farmer processes his/her own milk into fluid milk products, cheeses, butter, etc. To date, the dairy industry has not been willing to designate separate trucks to only a few SPCA Certified dairy farms. So, to produce SPCA Certified labelled milk and other dairy products, we would need to certify a larger group of producers whose milk would go into the same truck.

Another challenge is the requirement that all SPCA Certified dairy cattle have access to pasture or a deep bedded pack, because many dairy farms currently are not set up that way. The large majority of non-organic dairy farms do not let their cows outside, nor do they have any pasture land or barns that can accommodate a bedded pack. Only organic dairy farms are required to let their cows outside, and even then, it doesn’t have to be every day. Some organic dairy cows are still housed tied up in stalls.

The SPCA Certified program has contacted the organic dairy industry to determine the level of interest in having organic cattle become SPCA Certified as well, since they are already collecting organic milk with separate tanker trucks. To date, there has been no success in these efforts.

Food from farms certified for animal welfare practices are a niche market that a pooled milk system is not set up for. Until we can find a way to keep certified milk separate (like they do with organic milk), the system is better suited to cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products that can be processed separately and do not need to be pooled together.

While the BC SPCA regularly works in partnership with animal rights organizations, and we enjoy a mutual respect for each other’s work, our philosophies differ. The BC SPCA is an animal welfare organization, not an animal rights organization.

The goal of animal rights organizations is to end all use of animals by humans, including use of animals for food, clothing, in entertainment, in research and as pets.

As an animal welfare organization, the BC SPCA acknowledges that many Canadians rely on domesticated farm animals for food. Our farm programming exists to improve the lives of animals being raised on farms to ensure they reach the end of their lives as peacefully as possible. We encourage people who choose a diet consisting of meats, dairy products or eggs to choose only products raised to the highest standards of animal welfare.

BC SPCA Certified ProgramThe SPCA Certified program is an evidence-based program developed by the BC SPCA to ensure that animals raised for food are treated as humanely as possible throughout their lives via the five freedoms outlined in the BC SPCA mission statement.

Leading by example, our internal BC SPCA food policy ensures that only qualifying higher welfare animal products are served at BC SPCA events, and that vegan and vegetarian foods are available.

Yes, you can adopt horses from the BC SPCA. Horses come into the care of the BC SPCA as a result of cruelty investigations. These horses are rehabilitated on-site at the BC SPCA Good Shepherd Barn or in foster homes across the province.

Viewings are by appointment. A completed adoption application (PDF) and a home check are required as part of the adoption process.

Adoption fees vary from $250 to $750, or more. Basic medical exams are performed by a veterinarian when horses are in our care; however, it is recommended that potential adopters carry out pre-purchase exams when considering horse adoption.

Search for horses now >>

Categories: Adoption, Farm animals

The SPCA Certified program is a farm certification and food-labeling program BC SPCA Certified Programdedicated to improving the lives of farm animals raised for food in Canada. Products labeled with the “little red barn” logo come from farms that are annually assessed to SPCA Certified farm animal welfare standards by trained, independent validators.

SPCA Certified farmers do not use confinement housing (e.g. cages for chickens), they provide enrichment to the animals’ environment and they ensure painful practices like dehorning and castration (neutering) are minimized or eliminated.

Learn more about the SPCA Certified program.

SPCA Certified logoTo locate SPCA Certified food products near you, check out our interactive map.

Can’t find SPCA Certified foods in your area? Fill out one of our customer request cards (PDF) and give it to your local grocery store manager or take our customer request survey and help us get more products in the stores you shop in.


The BC SPCA recognizes and values the interconnectedness people share with all animals.

cute pigletAs an animal welfare organization, we acknowledge that many Canadians rely on domesticated farm animals for food. Therefore, we work to increase public awareness about farm animal welfare issues, promote individual actions that lead to improved farm animal welfare, and press for evidence-based changes to provincial and national laws.

Our farm programming improves the quality of life of animals being raised on farms to ensure they reach the end of their lives as peacefully as possible. We encourage people who choose a diet consisting of meats, dairy products or eggs to choose only products raised to the highest standards of animal welfare.

Learn more about farm animal programming at the BC SPCA and how you can take action and get involved.

Category: Farm animals

It costs the BC SPCA $25 per day to care for a horse. In addition to this, there are other costs of care:

  • Intake exam and blood work when necessary: $150+
  • Hoof trimming every 4-6 weeks: $40 per trim
  • Internal and external parasite treatment/control: $20
  • Castration of intact male horses: $500
  • Other medical care/medications as needed

horse and pony outside at barn

Categories: Adoption, Farm animals

Horses and farm animals come into the BC SPCA’s care through cruelty investigations. Sadly, they are usually in poor condition. In many cases they require extensive nutritional and medical rehabilitation due to starvation and health issues.

The BC SPCA has the extremely difficult challenge of finding care for these horses and adopting them out to experienced, permanent homes. In 2015 the Cruelty Investigations Department opened the Good Shepherd Barn in Cloverdale and the Kelowna Recovery and Adoption Barn to accommodate horses and farm animals involved in cruelty investigations. A third farm animal facility is being planned for Nanaimo. The BC SPCA does not have the resources to take in surrendered horses and farm animals at this time.

We rely heavily on donations to provide foster homes and boarding facilities for horses in our care. Other expenses include food, veterinary and farrier care during rehabilitation and recovery from injuries or illness.

person walking with horse outside

The short answer is, yes. The SPCA Certified program has been approved to sell in all Costco locations across Canada. SPCA Certified eggs are available at Costco, but you may not see the SPCA Certified red barn logo on Costco egg cartons.

egg cartonCostco works with many different animal welfare certification programs to ensure their eggs are raised to high standards. Costco’s ‘Kirkland Signature Organic Eggs’ are cage-free and sourced from farms certified under one of Costco’s approved animal welfare certification programs, such as SPCA Certified.

Most small farmers cannot produce enough eggs to supply a retail giant like Costco, which sells a lot of eggs! By pooling eggs from a number of different farms, Costco can continually supply eggs certified to animal welfare standards in large quantities. With so many certifications going into each carton, it’s not possible to include all the program logos on the cartons.

If you would like to learn more about which labels Costco has approved for their ‘Kirkland Signature Organic Eggs’, please visit the Costco website.

Learn where you can find local food retailers carrying SPCA Certified foods.


The BC SPCA supports the initiative to establish evidence-based standards and clear expectations for the practice of slaughter without prior stunning. Nonetheless, since slaughter without prior stunning has been scientifically demonstrated to cause unnecessary suffering, the BC SPCA position is that governments should take more substantial action by eliminating the practice in Canada, or at the very least, by requiring immediate post-cut stunning of every animal.

The BC SPCA believes that the methods used to kill any animal must be humane. Read more about the BC SPCA’s position on humane killing and farm animal welfare.

Unfortunately, our constables have no inspection powers in slaughterhouses and can only attend to investigate if we receive complaints from someone who has witnessed animal cruelty directly. Also, because these ritual slaughter practices are legally permitted under B.C.’s and Canada’s meat processing laws, they are also effectively exempt from prosecution under the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, as they constitute “reasonable and generally accepted practices.”

Developments began in 2016 to create national standards to address this issue and a public consultation period was held in early 2017 to gather feedback on the proposal. The BC SPCA was told that our position statement on the issue was considered, and we will continue to fight for tougher standards to prevent suffering of these animals.

This is an issue that would be really important for government to hear from you on personally. We suggest writing to the Provincial and Federal Agriculture Ministers and copying in your local MLA and MP. It’s always really important that they hear directly from their constituents on these issues.

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Cows in a pasture