Amid a hot and dry summer on the Prairies, animal advocates are raising concerns about the treatment of livestock on Manitoba farms.
Reports about animal welfare in the province have been growing at a steady pace over the past few years, with this year’s numbers on track to surpass the 2018 total. Last year, the province recorded 1,054 humane cases — a number that includes reports on the mistreatment of animals ranging from domestic pets to bison. The sum is a 32 per cent increase from three years earlier.
"People just assume livestock are very hearty and that they don’t need the same things as pets inside our homes," said Brittany Semeniuk, a veterinary nurse and animal welfare consultant at the Winnipeg Humane Society.
But attitudes about decades-old concerns regarding farm animal welfare are changing, she said. "It’s not just about dogs and cats now. People are starting to extend their compassion to all animals."
The province also attributes a rise in calls over time to increased public awareness about animal welfare issues.
It is currently looking into at least one farm animal welfare concern related to the care of cattle and horses at several locations along Highway 2. A spokesperson for the office of the chief veterinarian declined Monday to provide further comment.
Data from the first quarter of 2019 shows of all the reports involving farm animals, the number of concerns about equine well-being topped the list; cows, goats and sheep followed.
"A lot of those complaints are someone driving by on the highway and making a complaint — but there was no complaint to be had," said Bryce Lobreau, a cattle farmer in Pipestone, a rural community 300 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.
Lobreau said context about a farm’s size, facilities and cattle behaviour is needed before passersby make any judgment.
However, the well-being of livestock is becoming "a big concern for farmers," he said, adding it’s when farmers experience health or financial problems that intervention is usually necessary.
"We have had a couple of years with challenging production conditions. If producers are experiencing stress, we would encourage them to reach out for assistance from resources such as the Manitoba Farm, Rural & Northern (Support) Services, if needed," Carson Callum, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers, said in an email statement.
Conditions haven’t been ideal for farmers this year due to dry conditions. Last week, MBP released a news release urging farmers across the province to list available hay, straw and alternative feed for others experiencing yields "far below expected."
Callum said animal welfare is always a "top priority" for Manitoba’s beef cattle producers, who are expected to obey the industry’s code of practice for animal care. The code outlines basic expectations for producers including providing livestock with food, water, shelter and veterinary care, as well as establishing emergency preparedness measures.
Animal owners who breach the provincial Animal Care Act laws can face fines up to $10,000 and a jail sentence of six months or less. The penalties are doubled for repeat offenders.
Judges may also impose animal possession restrictions or lifetime bans on farmers found guilty of animal abuse.
Maltreatment on farms is "common enough to raise concerns" for the Winnipeg Humane Society, but Semeniuk said the extent of the problem can only be known if people report concerns to Manitoba’s animal care line.
Earlier this year, animal services in Saskatchewan seized 131 cattle from a farm that were in distress because the animals did not have access to feed.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.
Updated on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 at 9:41 AM CDT: Adds photo