SPCA New Zealand

Shining a light on our farmyard friends

03 October 2019
Shining a light on our farmyard friends

Let's talk facts: Shining a light on our farmyard friends

Beautiful New Zealand and its picturesque pastures and green landscape present an ideal set up for keeping farm animal companions. Thousands of animal lovers across the country have farm and large animals as part of the family and they can make for wonderful and unique family additions. However, did you know that goats should not be kept as lawnmowers, or that pigs are much smarter than we might them credit for? Read on to find out some of the most fascinating facts about our popular farm animal friends. If you have been thinking of adopting one of these animals into the family, they might clear up some of your questions!

Miniature horses

Though they share similarities, did you know that ponies and miniature horses are separate types of equine? The main difference between them is that ponies are shorter and stockier in build than horses; they often have shorter legs, thicker necks and different coats and manes. A miniature horse is simply a scaled down horse, with proportions and features the same as a large breed horse, but on a smaller scale.

In most cases, the main classification between horses and pony breeds is height: ponies are less than 14 hands and two inches. All miniature horses are technically ponies but not all ponies are miniature horses. Differently to other equine breeds, miniature horses are measured by the placement of the last hair on their mane – larger breeds are measured to their ‘wither’ which is the ridge between the shoulder blades. The smallest horse in the world is Thumbelina who weighs just 25kg and is 4 hands and 3.75” tall!


You might be surprised to hear that pigs are actually very intelligent, much more than they are often given credit for. In fact, they have the same intelligence level as a three-year-old human; they can learn their name, and even learn to do tricks. It’s common knowledge that pigs adore their food, so using treats as an incentive makes them easy to train.

Due to their active and advanced brain, enrichment is vital to ensure pigs kept as companions don’t get bored. One of their most important natural behaviours to exhibit is foraging. It’s easy to set up foraging tasks for them just using some of their favourite nutritious foods, such as leafy dark greens, kumara and asparagus. Some great ideas for piggy enrichment include filling tubs with some of these treats and hiding them in varying spots around their paddock, or freezing blended vegetables into blocks for them into the summer.


Cows are similar to humans in more ways than one. They have fantastic memories and are very sociable. Like us, they have friends within herds, and even other cows who they take a dislike to and will avoid! Cows are naturally curious and friendly and often enjoy spending time with humans, as long as interactions are done slowly and gently. A cow will always remember experiences, whether good or bad; they have been shown to hold grudges with humans or other cows who have mistreated them. Cows also have brilliant spatial memory which means they can remember their surroundings and location of vital resources such as water, shelter and food.

Cows love nothing more than a good scratch and will work as hard to gain access to a brush as fresh food. Many farms now offer mechanical brushes which look like the giant brushes in car washes. Providing cows with the opportunity to scratch is so important that farmers in Denmark are legally required to provide their cows with access to brushes!


There are over 1 billion sheep in the world, and in New Zealand there are approximately six sheep to every human. Known for their woolly coats, a sheep’s coat never stops growing. This is why anyone keeping sheep must implement a thorough grooming schedule for shearing as, if a sheep goes too long without being shorn, this can lead to painful matting, overheating, maggot infestation, and even death. If a sheep's coat becomes too matted, they can also suffer from becoming ‘cast’ which is where they get stuck on their back. This can be dangerous and sometimes fatal if they fall into this position, which highlights why shearing is so important! In New Zealand, Shrek the merino ram avoided being shorn for 6 years. When he was finally caught and given a long overdue haircut, there was enough wool to have made 20 men’s suits – imagine carrying all that weight around!

Sheep are extremely adaptable farm animals and impressively, just moments after they are born, lambs are able to stand and walk around. As natural herd animals, they are only comfortable when in a ‘flock’ or ‘herd’ of their own kind. They also have many distinct vocalisations which help them communicate with one another and alert to any dangers.


An extremely common misconception about goats is that they make for good lawn-mowers, this is simply not true! Goats are intelligent, active and extremely curious by nature, keeping them as ‘lawn mowers’ will make them bored, distressed, lonely and potentially very unhealthy and at risk of being seriously injured.

Goats are active beings and simply love exploring – their all-time favourite activity is climbing. They will often do whatever it takes to get to something interesting they see, which means you need secure fencing to keep goats! Goats like to browse foliage and can be picky eaters. Sadly, many goats kept across New Zealand are kept alone, tethered and tied up all day. Keeping a goat in this way will make them unhappy and restrict them from exhibiting natural behaviours. It may also make them distressed and potentially cause they harm if they try and break free from being tethered.

Those who keep goats as companion will attest to how wonderful, friendly and entertaining they can be given the right set up and freedom to explore until their heart is content


Did you know that chickens have more bones in their necks than giraffes? Chickens are a popular choice for New Zealanders who have the land and time to care for them, and they make a great addition to the family.

There are more than 150 different varieties of chickens in many different colours, patterns and combs. Young female chickens are called pullets and young male chickens are called cockerels – as adults they are called hens and roosters.

Chickens are wonderful communicators and are known to exhibit as many as 24 different types of vocalisations. A mother hen will even start “talking” to her chicks while they are in the egg and the chicks can chirp back. This enables chicks and their mother to recognise each other even before they hatch.

Chickens get clean by getting dirty! Chickens take dust baths to clean their feathers and protect themselves from mites and other parasites. It’s important to provide access to soil or other appropriate material so chickens can dig a shallow pit and enjoy a good bath.

If you are looking to adopt a farm animal into your family, you can find our animals available for adoption here.

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