What is a Factory Farm?
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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 farm animal raised? Are farm animals treated cruelly? What is a factory farm? How are livestock animals raised?

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


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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Comments (13)

We may want to link these: http://factoidz.com/subjecting-animals-to-cruelty-to-keep-meat-on-the-tables-of-america/

I hate things like this. I don't how any human being can be so cruel to animals.

Can you mistreat a living organism and it reach maximum potential? Whether plant or animal life, we are products of two things; genes and environment. A living organism if not fed, housed, watered, air & temp controlled or treated with the utmost care and balance of nature will not reach potential. When discussing comfort, think about Free Range, whether the temperature is 103 degrees or minus 3 degrees Free Range does not necessarily mean comfort. Free Range can mean more parasites, insects, predators, rodents, mud, ice, snow and rocks. Environment is a descriptive term, what is the optimum environment for an animal or plant to reach potential? Can you mistreat a living organism and still make a profit? It’s not like making cheaper cars or building less expensive houses. America has the cheapest and safest food on the planet.

to Note taker. Actually food in the USA is going down hill, being less nutritious than years ago. Mass production is not only cruel but means less nutrition. http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2004-06-01/Is-Agribusiness-Making-Food-Less-Nutritious.aspx free range is NOT cruel - animals still must have food, shelter, and care - chickens still are kept in a coop at night - with fences to stop predators - they EAT insects!! farmers dont want their livestock to die just because they let it outside for the day! that would be stupid. laws insist they have water, shelter - as needed, and food - so does common sence. you are thinking more about hunted game then farm animals who are not kept on factory farms.

Note Taker is correct. Canadian & American Farmers cannot mistreat their animals or crops and expect to survive in today's economy. Be concerned about imported foods such as Vietnamese five gallon bucket raised fish. Spill the ink on this one and maybe restaurants will quit buying imported foods.

I remember on our daily evening news, a TV patrol news man, video how a truck full load of goats, congested goats, making a delivery. The man on top of of the truck just throws the poor goats out the truck and landing on the ground half conscious.


We'd all love to eat organic and free range meat but economically it is not feasable. It all boils down to money. Farmers markets are overpriced. Cutting out the middleman should lower the prices not raise them. Is organic farming costing the farmer 3 times as much as other methods? Until costs come down, the average person is going to shop price not cruelty.

Irene, I sell my excess free range eggs for $1 a dozen because I REALLY want people to switch. organic farming IS more expensive BUT the meat is also healthier so you can eat LESS. Farmers markets where I am are no different in price to the grocery store, however organic food sold in the grocery store IS more expensive than other. People DO NOT need to eat as much meat as they do - certainly we could all be healthier, and reduce cruelty if we ate less meat, eggs, and so forth. Meat is only needed 3 times a week, and no more than the size of a deck of cards.

Brenda, it can be re-framed and justified in any number of ways, but it isn't like eating meat is essential to life. It's an individual choice. A choice that results in animals being abused so that people can put meat on the table--just as my article says.

Yup, James I am nearly a vegetarian myself, and agree eating meat is NOT essential, and truly NEVER cruelty free - I have free range hens for eggs, but I am well aware of what fate befell their male counterparts.

In the US, Organic Farm operations that sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products are exempted from certification and preparing an organic system plan, but they must operate in compliance with these regulations and may label products as organic. They are on the honesty program. Organic Farmers seldom get paid more but the stores mark the product up because they know the certain group that want it will pay for it. .

Thanks for sharing this. Any exposure helps. Voted up and buzzed up also.