Factory Farming

“U.S. society is extremely naive about the nature of agricultural production.

“[I]f the public knew more about the way in which agricultural animal production infringes on animal welfare, the outcry would be louder.”

Bernard E. Rollin, PhD
Farm Animal Welfare
Iowa State U. Press, 2003

Many people believe that animals raised for food must be treated well because sick or dead animals would be of no use to agribusiness. This is not true.

The competition to produce inexpensive meat, eggs, and dairy products has led animal agribusiness to treat animals as objects and commodities. The worldwide trend is to replace small family farms with “factory farms” – large warehouses where animals are confined in crowded cages or pens or in restrictive. 1

According to Professor Bernard E. Rollin: “[I]ndividual animals may ‘produce,’ for example, gain weight, in part because they are immobile, yet suffer because of the inability to move.”2 In the case of battery-cage egg production, Rollin explains that “though each hen is less productive when crowded, the operation as a whole makes more money with a high stocking density: chickens are cheap, cages are expensive.”2

In an article in favor of cutting the space per pig from 8 to 6 square feet, industry journal National Hog Farmer advises that “Crowding pigs pays.”3

See also: this collection of video links.


Chickens raised for meat (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).
Chickens raised for meat (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).

“In my opinion, if most urban meat eaters were to visit an industrial broiler house, to see how the birds are raised, and could see the birds being ‘harvested’ and then being ‘processed’ in a poultry processing plant, they would not be impressed and some, perhaps many of them would swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat.”

Peter Cheeke, PhD
Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture
2004 textbook

In the United States, virtually all birds raised for food are factory farmed.4 Inside the densely populated sheds,vast amounts of waste accumulate. The resulting ammonia levels commonly cause painful burns to the birds’ skin, eyes, and respiratory tracts.5

Today’s broiler reaches market weight in about one third the time it took the traditional broiler.2 This rapid growth rate has been accompanied by an increasingly high incidence of conditions that cause suffering, such as ascites and painful skeletal deformities.8 According to Professor John Webster of the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Science, “Broilers are the only livestock that are in chronic pain for the last 20% of their lives.”17 In order to avoid problems of reproduction and lameness associated with obesity, broilers used for breeding are severely feed restricted.5,8

To cut losses from birds pecking each other, farmers remove a third to a half of the beak from egg-laying hens, breeding chickens, and most turkeys and ducks.27 Without pain relief, the beak is partially amputated with a heated blade; or the end is damaged with a laser, infrared beam, or powerful electric spark and sloughs off days later.8 The birds suffer severe pain for weeks.8 Some, unable to eat afterwards, starve.2

See also: “Enter the Chicken Shed” (PDF); ducksthe life of a broilerthe turkey industry (2006)2011 turkey farm investigation; more photos (123).

Egg-Laying Hens

Packed in cages (usually less than half a square foot of floor space per bird),6 hens can become immobilized and die of asphyxiation or dehydration. Decomposing corpses are found in cages with live birds.

Roughly 95 percent of U.S. commercial eggs come from hens in battery cages6 (click for larger image; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary).
Roughly 95 percent of U.S. commercial eggs come from hens in battery cages6 (click for larger image; courtesy of Farm Sanctuary).

By the time their egg production declines, the birds’ skeletons are so fragile that many suffer broken bones as they’re removed from the cages.8,36 Hens who are transported to slaughter often endure long journeys and sustain further injuries.8,36 Flocks killed on-site are gassed,6 rendered, composted, or destroyed by other means (for example, on two California farms, workers fed 30,000 live hens into wood chippers).Each week, hundreds of thousands of laying hens die on U.S. farms.6,9 Most endure one to two years of battery-cage confinement before they’re disposed of as “spent hens.”6,8

Male chicks, of no economic value to the egg industry, are typically macerated (ground up alive) or gassed.8 In 2009, Mercy For Animals investigated a major laying-breed hatchery and captured the maceration method on videotape.

See also: 2012 undercover investigation“Act of God”Ban Battery CagesEgg Industry; Search for Humane Eggsmore photos.


In the September 1976 issue of the trade journal Hog Farm Management, John Byrnes advised: “Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory.”

Piglet biting cage (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).
Piglet biting cage (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).

This [movie Babe] is the way Americans want to think of pigs. Real-life “Babes” see no sun in their limited lives, with no hay to lie on, no mud to roll in. The sows live in tiny cages, so narrow they can’t even turn around. They live over metal grates, and their waste is pushed through slats beneath them and flushed into huge pits.Today’s pig farmers have done just that. As Morley Safer related on 60 Minutes:

On September 17, 2008, the Associated Press reported on a cruelty investigation performed by PETA at a pig farm in Iowa. The report stated in part:

The video, shot by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, shows farm workers hitting sows with metal rods, slamming piglets on a concrete floor and bragging about jamming rods into sows’ hindquarters.…

At one point in the video, workers are shown slamming piglets on the ground, a practice designed to instantly kill those baby pigs that aren’t healthy enough. But on the video, the piglets are not killed instantly, and in a bloodied pile, some piglets can be seen wiggling vainly. The video also shows piglets being castrated, and having their tails cut off, without anesthesia.

See also: later investigations from 200920102011, and 2012When Pigs Cry; more photos.

“To visit a modern CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) is to enter a world that, for all its technological sophistication, is still designed according to Cartesian principles: animals are machines incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this any more, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else.

Chick being debeaked (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).
Chick being debeaked (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).

“From everything I’ve read, egg and hog operations are the worst. Beef cattle in America at least still live outdoors, albeit standing ankle deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick. And broiler chickens…at least don’t spend their eight-week lives in cages too small to ever stretch a wing. That fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who passes her brief span piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage whose floor a single page of this [New York Times] magazine could carpet. Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral ‘vices’ that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding.… [T]he [5 percent]9 or so of hens that can’t bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production.…

The average breeding sow spends most of her life in a two-foot-wide stall, unable to turn around2 (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).
The average breeding sow spends most of her life in a two-foot-wide stall, unable to turn around2 (click for larger image; courtesy of PETA).

“Piglets in confinement operations are weaned from their mothers [2 to 3 weeks]8 after birth (compared with 13 weeks in nature) because they gain weight faster on their hormone- and antibiotic-fortified feed. This premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a desire they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. A normal pig would fight off his molester, but a demoralized pig has stopped caring. ‘Learned helplessness’ is the psychological term, and it’s not uncommon in confinement operations, where tens of thousands of hogs spend their entire lives ignorant of sunshine or earth or straw, crowded together beneath a metal roof upon metal slats suspended over a manure pit. So it’s not surprising that an animal as sensitive and intelligent as a pig would get depressed, and a depressed pig will allow his tail to be chewed on to the point of infection. Sick pigs, being underperforming ‘production units,’ are clubbed to death on the spot. The USDA’s recommended solution to the problem is called ‘tail docking.’ Using a pair of pliers (and no anesthetic), most but not all of the tail is snipped off. Why the little stump? Because the whole point of the exercise is not to remove the object of tail-biting so much as to render it more sensitive. Now, a bite on the tail is so painful that even the most demoralized pig will mount a struggle to avoid it.…

“More than any other institution, the American industrial animal farm offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism can look like in the absence of moral or regulatory constraint. Here in these places life itself is redefined – as protein production – and with it suffering.That venerable word becomes ‘stress,’ an economic problem in search of a cost-effective solution, like tail-docking or beak-clipping or, in the industry’s latest plan, by simply engineering the ‘stress gene’ out of pigs and chickens. Our own worst nightmare such a place may well be; it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath these grim steel roofs, into the brief, pitiless life of a ‘production unit’ in the days before the suffering gene was found.”

The New York Times Magazine, “An Animal’s Place” by Michael Pollan, 11/10/02