In Canada sheep production is a relatively small industry compared to that of cattle or chicken with just over one million sheep and lambs raised across the country annually (source: 2016 census). The most popular breeds in Canada are the Suffolk, Dorset and Rideau Arcott.
Sheep, like beef cattle, are ruminant animals that have four stomachs to help them digest their food. They are raised for milk, wool and meat, depending on their breed. A ewe (female sheep) can produce two litres of milk per day and weigh between 70-125 kg. Market lambs are typically sold for slaughter before six months of age.
What are the main concerns for sheep welfare?
- Lameness (inability to walk properly):
Foot rot and scald are two common causes of lameness in sheep. Both come from a bacterial infection called bacterium Dichelobacter nodosus. Foot rot and scald are both treatable by keeping feet dry, trimmed, and medicated.
- Tail docking:
Farmers will dock the tails of their sheep to prevent buildup of feces on the tail and surrounding wool. When damp and dirty, this area on a woolly sheep can attract blowflies. The blowflies lay eggs on the sheep and the hatching maggots feed off the sheep’s flesh. It is a very painful and potentially fatal condition. Tail docking makes sheep more resistant to blowfly strike, but hair-breed sheep do not need their tail docked as they do not have the same health concern. Tail docking can be very stressful and painful to the animal if done without using pain medication.
Sheep are prey animals and can be scared, stressed or injured easily when handling. It is important for a shepherd to understand and utilize safe handling techniques.
Support a better life for sheep
SPCA Certified farmers prove that it’s possible to meet the needs of sheep on farms. SPCA Certified standards include stringent requirements, such as:
- Outdoor access for all sheep for a minimum of 150 days per year
- Performing painful practices requires use of pain medication, and some practices are expressly prohibited (e.g. dehorning sheep)
- Use of electric prods for handling or moving sheep is strictly prohibited
Farmers who successfully meet SPCA Certified standards are able to sell their foods with the program’s stamp of approval – the little red barn label. If you or someone you know eats sheep or lamb products, you can help sheep lead better lives and support the farmers who care for them.
Understand your food labels
When shopping for humane sheep and lamb products, pay careful attention to the labels. Here are a few quick tips for finding the right sheep and lamb products:
- Green light: best choices for welfare.
Certifications like SPCA Certified, Certified Organic and Animal Welfare Approved are your best options for supporting high welfare farming practices. These farms have been regularly audited to strict requirements for animal care and welfare.
- Yellow light: next best choice.
Grass-fed and pasture-raised lamb comes from farms that feed their sheep a grass (forage) diet, or give their sheep access to a seeded outdoor pasture for grazing.
- Red light: these labels are misleading!
Don’t be fooled by claims like ‘premium’ or ‘natural’. Without a certification or a meaningful description of animal care, these labels do not mean better treatment for animals.
Take action for all farm animals
We are always working to build a better future for farm animals in B.C. and across Canada, but we need your help. Help us speak for animals by participating in any of our farm animal welfare campaigns.