Why do many farm animals live indoors?

 By Patricia Grotenhuis, lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

I have heard a lot of questions about why farm animals are housed indoors, and mention that it would be more natural for them to be housed outside.  There are a lot of reasons why animals are housed indoors, and all have welfare implications.

Barns provide a controlled climate for animals and birds.  There are significant weather variations in Canada from one season to the next, and not all animals will thrive at all temperatures.  Beef cows can be quite content outdoors in the middle of winter, provided they have a windbreak and shelter to use during storms, and a food source available. 

Pigs, on the other hand, would not do well outside at these temperatures.  Even in the hardiest species, piglets born outdoors during the winter would be at high risk for injuries due to cold such as frostbite.  The high summer temperatures some regions of Canada experience are also uncomfortable for many animals.

Barns protect farm animals during extreme cold or warm weather conditions.

Predators are always also a concern when animals are housed outside, and with the growing coyote population in parts of Canada, the threat of predators seems to be increasing steadily.  Some farmers who kept their animals outdoors in the past have been converting to indoor housing as the threat grows.  Other farmers are adding extra fencing to attempt to keep predators out, or adding guard animals to their herds or flocks.  Donkeys, llamas and certain breeds of dogs are used as guard animals and livestock companions.

Illness and disease can be better managed when animals are indoors.  Keeping animals and birds indoors helps protect against diseases which can be carried by wild animals and birds.  Farmers can also monitor animal health more closely if they are indoors.  This allows for quick response to illness, lowering the time taken for the animal to recover.
Housing the animals inside allows the farmer to provide them with a balanced diet, tailored to helping animals meet production demands.  Diets can be changed as needed, due to changing demands on the animals or changing nutrient levels in stored feeds.  When animals are housed outside, it is also possible to provide a balanced diet and mineral supplements, as long as the farmer has a feeding system available.

When farmers are housing animals indoors, they install ventilation systems to make sure the air in the barn is fresh.  Many new barns, and some old barns, now have a large curtain or sliding panels on the walls as part of the ventilation system, which also allow natural light.  Other barns use a series of fans, doors, vents or chimneys to increase air flow.
Some farmers who have barns for their animals will still allow their animals to go outside at certain times during the day or during certain seasons.  Indoor housing does not need to be exclusive.

Whether farmers are housing their animals indoors, outdoors, or a combination of the two, the common factor is that they have taken measures to ensure the animals will be well provided for and taken care of.

You can tour a variety of Canadian farms and learn more about different types of barns at www.virtualfarmtours.ca

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