What is a Factory Farm?

What is Factory Farming? Learn about factory farms and how they keep livestock. Learn about keeping cattle, pigs, chickens, in a feedlot type situation and the cruelty issues. What is a factory farm? Why are factory farms considered cruel? How are fa

Many people have heard the term “Factory Farm” but not everyone knows what it means. If fact this term can have double meaning. Most often it refers to intensive farming. Keeping as many animals on as little land as possible with the greatest output. Other times it refers to farms owned by companies rather than by individual farmers. Often times it refers to both.

Factory farming is a relatively new thing, the first factory farms being established in the 1920's, when chickens were suddenly forced into unnatural indoor confinement, known as battery farms. Pumped with antibiotics and vitamins to allow so many birds in close confines without natural sunlight, or clean air. These chickens were of two types, broiler hens, for eating, and battery hens, for laying eggs. In both cases roosters are not needed, and the majority of male chicks are ground up at the age of one day.

As the human population grew so did the need for more meat. In 1900 there were 1.6 Billion people on the planet, with medical improvements, and especially following the earlier Industrial revolution, populations started climbing, reaching over 6 Billion (in 2011 it passed 7 billion) by the year 2000. In 1947 Britain's Agriculture Act encouraged farmers, though subsidies, to produce more meat, but factory farming really took off in North America, where vast amounts of farm land could be used to grow food for beef cattle kept in tiny, crowded, outdoor pens, known as feedlots.

Other animals are kept more like the hens we mentioned above, living indoors in large barns, all their lives (of course their lives being cut short for slaughter).

Factory farms are often see as cruel, more people mean greater demands are placed on the agriculture business, and as nobody wants food prices to rise, it means animals are kept under poor standards, often encouraged to grow faster for a younger slaughter age.  Of interest is the fact that some studies have shown food produced this way is less nutritious

Livestock Types

  • Sheep are one of the few animals not commonly kept under such conditions.
  • We have already mentioned both broiler hens and battery hens.
  • Pigs and goats (particularly dairy goats) are often kept in factory type settings.
  • Cattle, dairy cattle, and steers for beef, are often kept on factory farms.
  • Turkey's, ducks, quail, and so forth, are very often kept this way.
  • Rabbits, both for the pet industry, and for food, are kept this way (in fact many pets are raised in such a way, often called “mills”).
  • Horses that are used in the PMU industry are kept in factory type conditions.

pigs in USA

photo source - Pigs in USA factory farm

Cruelty

Some of the cruelty issues that come into play are that the animals have more stress, more health concerns, lower quality of life, and suffer from boredom (this is particularly of interest in chickens as bored chickens will peck each other to death – one of the reasons their beaks are cut after hatching).

Animals kept in this way live in feces and their own urine for much of the time, or are standing on grates that hurt their feet. They are often injured due to confinement, and if one does get ill, the disease will spread quickly.

As the keepers are now treating the animals more like commodities than living beings the incidences of cruelty and abuse are suspected to be higher than on a regular farm.

Many cruelty laws that apply to pets do not apply to livestock animals. Most laws that apply to livestock animals (including humane slaughter laws) do not apply to birds.

hens on a battery farm

photo source - laying hens

What can you do?

There is no reason factory farms need to exist, not all farmers keep livestock this way.  The public is key to stopping this kind of cruelty.  Eating less meat (particularly less chicken, and fewer eggs) will mean less suffering.  Insisting that law makers support laws against factory farming.  The minimum space requirements per animal must be increased (the USA has the world's lowest standards for space required by hens).  Look for Organic, or Free Range meat - often sold at farmers markets.  Educate others by sharing links such as this.

veal calf

photo by author - typical containment of a veal calf in North America (In the UK a push has been made for pasture raised veal)

Other Reading

Subjecting Animals to Cruelty to Keep Meat on the Tables of America

Is Hunting Less Cruel than Factory Farming?

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