Alberta Farm Animal Care Association

Current/Past Welfare Issues

Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Antimicrobials have been widely used in livestock since the 1950’s. Food animal production has steadily increased over the years, requiring better disease management on farms. More than 75% of antimicrobials in Canada have been used sub-therapeutically in farm animals to prevent disease and for growth promotion. Antibiotic use is beneficial for the agricultural industry because it improves carcass quality, improves feed efficiency, and positively impacts the animal’s welfare by preventing infection and treating disease. However, the public are concerned about, and seek elimination of, antibiotic use in livestock, particularly for growth promotion, because of the increasing global issue of antimicrobial resistance.

Disbudding and Dehorning

Horns of livestock, particularly, cattle, sheep, and goats are sometimes removed for safety and economic reasons. Producers routinely remove the horns of beef and dairy cattle to decrease risk of injuries to workers and other animals, and to minimize financial losses from carcass bruising (in beef cattle). The Canadian Beef Quality Audit states that carcass bruising costs the industry $10 million per year.

Handling of Livestock

All livestock will be handled in some way throughout their lifetime while in production. The way in which livestock are handled has a major impact on animal welfare and productivity. Positive interactions with handlers will improve animal well-being and productivity while improper interactions will negatively impact the animal’s welfare by causing stress and fear. Stress and fear increase the safety risks to both animals and stock people, and decrease meat quality (e.g. “dark cutters” for beef; pale, soft, exudative (PSE) and dry, firm, dark (DFD) for pork).

Layer Housing

Farmers want their birds to be in the best shape possible and strive to care for them as best they can using the equipment, technologies, and knowledge available to them. Selecting a production system and housing design is a complex, multi-factorial issue that requires great consideration. The issue of cage systems vs. cage-free is not as simple as some would like to think. Let’s take a look at why.

Gestation Stalls

Confinement of breeding sows is one of the most controversial issues in livestock production. In the United States, the majority (~70%) of sows are housed in confinement facilities. The most common housing system for pregnant sows is gestation stalls. Gestation stalls were developed in the 1960’s and gained popularity because they allow for better management and observation of sows with respect to nutrition, health, and disease compared to extensive systems (e.g. pens). As well, from an economic point of view, gestation stalls maximize the number of pigs weaned per year per sow most cost effectively. However, from a welfare standpoint, gestation stalls restrict sows’ opportunity to exercise, socially interact, and interact with the environment.


Castration is a common practice in modern Canadian agriculture and around the world. Castration involves the removal or destruction of the testicles in male animals. Castration is divided into 3 major groups: physical, chemical and hormonal, with physical being most common. Methods of castration include surgical removal (knife), burdizzo (clamp used for physical crushing of testicular cord), elastrator/banding (damage scrotal and testicular blood supply) and immunocastration (immunization against gonadotropin releasing hormone).

Animal Welfare Measures

Ever wonder how animal welfare is assessed on-farm?

Well we have the answer for you! Click on the fact sheet below to learn about the different measures used to assess animal welfare on-farm and how audits use these measures when assessing farm animal welfare.

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