Modern Farming: Advancements in Animal Welfare

SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 1:00-2:30PM
TRACK: FARM ANIMAL WELFARE

James Harley, Owner & Head of Operations and Sales, Harley Farms
Roger Harley, Owner & Head of Protocol Consulting, Harley Farms
Brandy Street, MSc (Ag), Manager, SPCA Certified, BC SPCA

Society is becoming increasingly concerned about the welfare of farm animals. The expectation is that farm animals be treated not just as a commodity with a limited existence, but as living beings with complex needs, behaviours and emotions. As such, it’s no longer acceptable to house farm animals in conditions where they cannot turn around or lie down without touching their neighbour. It’s no longer acceptable to perform painful procedures without some form of pain relief. And value is placed on living conditions that allow farm animals to behave as they would in a more natural environment.

In Canada, farmers are obligated to comply with the Canadian Codes of Practice – nationally developed guidelines that serve as minimum animal care requirements for farm animals raised in Canada. The Codes outline appropriate housing conditions, space allowances and permissions and restrictions around performing painful procedures, to name a few. While the intention of the Codes is to reflect societal expectations for responsible farm animal care, many members of society question whether this is actually the case, given that the Codes condoned intensive confinement systems like battery cages for laying hens and sow stalls for pregnant pigs, and permit invasive surgical procedures like castration and dehorning without the use of pain relief medication.

The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC SPCA) was founded in 1895 out of concern for the treatment of working horses. Since its inception, the BC SPCA has continued to develop programming and educational materials around farm animal welfare and improved farming practices. In 2002, in response to societal interest in developing more humane farming systems, the BC SPCA launched the SPCA Certified farm certification and food labeling program. Using the Codes of Practice as a baseline, SPCA Certified Standards prescribe improvements to conventional farming practices. Although initially a BC-based program, SPCA Certified has since expanded across Canada and now certifies farms in Alberta and Ontario, with plans for certification of farms in other provinces, as well.

At Ontario-based Harley Farms, Roger and James Harley believe in allowing their animals the most natural life possible. The pasture-based sheep, pig and cattle operation provides ample space, warm shelters and a nearly endless supply of home-grown, non-GMO forage. The animals are allowed to express natural behaviours such as breeding, grazing, rooting and wallowing when the summer gets hot and sunny. Pain medication is used during necessary procedures that may cause pain, although many of these practices have simply been phased out. The Harleys have adopted the motto: “We work with nature, not against it”, and it shows.

Three Key Learnings:
1. Current Canadian farming standards
2. BC SPCA programming to advance farm animal welfare
3. A modern farm family’s approach to humane farming

SPEAKER BIOS
In 2000, at age 7, James Harley, his sister Emily and his parents Roger and Julie moved to Canada from the UK, settling at the current Harley Farms location in Keene, Ontario in 2002. At that time, James began to take a strong interest in farming. Upon graduating from a heavy equipment technician program in 2014, James returned to the farm where he took on more of a product marketing and management role and began to help with the farm’s expansion into higher welfare, non-GMO products.
James and his family believe in allowing the farm animals the most natural life possible on a farm. The animals are never abused or in distress. They all have plenty of room to roam the pasture, graze and drink water when they want to, and they have access to bedding, warm shelters and forested areas when the weather grows cold.

The pigs, sheep, and cattle raised at Harley Farms are heritage breeds, selected for their disease resistance, good mothering abilities, hardiness and ability to withstand Canadian climates. Harley Farms also manages closed herds, meaning the farm raises its own breeding stock. This is done to maintain the integrity of the heritage breeds raised on the farm, and to ensure that all animals are raised for their entire life on a farm where humane practices are of the utmost importance. Breeding occurs naturally and weaning of young animals occurs when they are older and more mature than what is standard practice on most commercial farms today.

Painful practices such as hot iron branding, tail docking, and teeth clipping are not carried out at Harley Farms. Dehorning is not needed since the cattle are polled, meaning they do not grow horns. Castration is performed on less than 5% of male animals and the Harleys aims to phase out the practice altogether. When necessary, cattle, sheep, and pigs are castrated using pain relief medication something that is uncommon on many commercial farms.


Roger Harley
and his family moved to Canada in 2000, eventually settling at their current farm location in Keene, Ontario in 2002. Roger started on developing standards and protocols around environmental sustainability and animal welfare that would be practical and affordable for use on their farm in Canada. He also worked on developing an audit program for farm welfare and habitat preservation for smallholder farms across Ontario. The program included promoting awareness of land management practices that improved farm habitats and minimized the farm’s environmental footprint.

Roger believes in allowing his own animals the most natural life possible on a farm. The animals are never abused or in distress. They all have plenty of room to roam the pasture, graze and drink water when they want to, and they have access to bedding, warm shelters and forested areas when the weather grows cold.

The pigs, sheep and cattle raised at Harley Farms are heritage breeds, selected for their disease resistance, good mothering abilities, hardiness and ability to withstand Canadian climates. Harley Farms also manages closed herds, meaning the farm raises its own breeding stock. This is done to maintain the integrity of the heritage breeds raised on the farm, and to ensure that all animals are raised for their entire life on a farm where humane practices are of the utmost importance. Breeding occurs naturally and weaning of young animals occurs when they are older and more mature than what is standard practice on most commercial farms today.

Painful practices such as hot iron branding, tail docking and teeth clipping are not carried out at Harley Farms. Dehorning is not needed since the cattle are polled, meaning they do not grow horns. Castration is performed on less than five per cent of male animals, and Roger aims to phase out the practice altogether. When necessary, cattle, sheep and pigs are castrated using pain relief medication – something that is uncommon on many commercial farms.


A University of Saskatchewan graduate, Brandy Street holds a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with a major in Animal Science and a minor in Business. Brandy also holds a Masters of Science in Agriculture in the field of Applied Ethology, the study of animal behaviour. Brandy grew up on a small farm in Stony Beach, Saskatchewan. Throughout her high school and university years, she worked on a number of different farms. With a keen interest in farm animal welfare, Brandy has gained experience working with pigs, dairy cattle, sheep and poultry. At the BC SPCA, Brandy oversees the national expansion of the SPCA Certified program, including producer recruitment, retail partnerships and improving animal welfare standards.

Upon graduation from her Masters program, Brandy worked as the Ethology Research Assistant at the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, as the Executive Director for the Manitoba Livestock Manure Management Initiative and as a Program Manager for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Brandy joined the BC SPCA in February 2011 as the Farm Animal Welfare Coordinator and has since advanced to the position of Manager of the SPCA Certified program. She oversees day-to-day operations and national expansion activities for the program, including producer recruitment, developing partnerships within the food retail sector and updating program standards based on advancements in animal welfare science.