A Closer Look at Animals on Factory Farms
The U.S. raises some 100 million pigs for food each year, virtually all in factory farms. Industrial-scale pig farms are known for their intensive, inhospitable conditions. At just two to three weeks old, piglets are removed from their mothers and placed in large, windowless sheds without fresh air, sunlight or outdoor access. Their pens are too small and crowded for adequate movement and exercise. Ammonia fumes rise to dangerous, uncomfortable levels due to the pigs’ waste.
Pigs tend to be extremely curious and intelligent, so their barren surroundings cause them extreme frustration. The tail-biting that sometimes results leads farms to cut off pigs’ tails without painkillers. Farms also castrate baby male pigs—without painkillers—because consumers don’t like the smell and taste of uncastrated males.
Most female breeding pigs (called sows) in the U.S. spend their reproductive lives confined to a gestation crate. These crates are barely bigger than the sow’s body and prohibit her from turning around. Sows are artificially inseminated and kept in their gestation stalls until a few days before birth, at which time they are moved to equally restrictive farrowing crates to give birth. They remain there for several weeks, nursing their young, and then are placed back in their gestation crates and re-inseminated. This cycle continues for several years, until the sows are no longer as productive and are sent to slaughter.
- Pigs can live up to 15 years, but most of those raised on factory farms are slaughtered at just six months.
- Both male and female pigs are raised for food.
- Pigs are as smart as or smarter than most dogs. They are one of only a few species Americans consider suitable for both keeping as pets and raising for food.
By the numbers, birds are by far the most abused type of animal in the United States. Approximately 8.5 billion chickens and 238 million turkeys are killed for their meat every year, while another 300 million languish in tiny cages producing nearly 100 billion eggs annually. All birds—egg-laying hens, meat chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and others—are excluded from all federal animal protection laws.
Many people do not realize that the breed of chicken used for modern egg production is different than the breed used for meat production. If you put them next to each other, they look almost nothing alike! Each has been strategically bred for hyper-production: egg-laying hens for high egg volume, and “meat” chickens for maximum breast meat. Both types suffer from severe physical problems brought on by this genetic manipulation.
Chickens Raised for Meat (“Broiler” Chickens)
Nearly all meat chickens are raised in factory farms, where they live in large sheds containing 20,000 chickens or more. The chickens live crammed together on the shed floor, which is covered in litter (a shredded, absorbent material). Because they live in their own waste, high ammonia levels irritate and burn their eyes, throats and skin.
Modern factory-farmed chickens look very little like their wild chicken ancestors. Thanks to selective breeding—combined with low-dose antibiotics, excessive feeding and inadequate exercise—factory-farmed meat chickens grow unnaturally quickly and disproportionately. While their breasts grow large to meet market demand, their skeletons and organs lag behind. Many suffer heart failure, trouble breathing, leg weakness and chronic pain. Some cannot support their own weight and become crippled, unable to reach food and water.
To keep them eating and growing, factory farms restrict chickens’ sleep by keeping the lights on almost all the time. As they grow, meat chickens become crowded together, competing for space. This constant interaction makes sleep even harder. As chickens die, their bodies are sometimes left among the living, adding to the stress and unhygienic conditions. Learn more about this issue at our Truth About Chicken website.
- Meat chickens today grow over three times faster than their pre-World War II ancestors.
- Chickens can live for 10 years, but those on factory farms are usually killed by six weeks of age.
Where do egg-laying hens come from? A side-industry exists solely for the purpose of breeding them. Only female chicks will grow up to lay eggs, but male chicks are born just as often. There is no market for the male chicks, and they are the wrong breed to raise for meat—so shortly after they hatch, they are killed by grinding, gassing, crushing or suffocation.
Most egg-laying hens in the U.S. live on factory farms in long, windowless sheds containing rows of stacked “battery cages.” Up to 10 hens are packed together in one wire cage roughly the size of a file drawer. The frustration of living in such tight quarters sometimes leads to fighting. To lessen this problem, factory farms burn or slice off a portion of each hen’s beak (without painkillers). Hens who become sick do not receive veterinary care—at best, they are euthanized; at worst, ignored and left to die slowly.
When a hen’s egg production drops due to age, some farms will withhold proper nutrition for up to two weeks to shock the bird’s body into a final laying cycle. Once this “forced molting” phase is over, a hen is worth very little. Some are killed on-farm while others are sent to slaughter, their battered bodies used for food scraps.
- Battery cages provide less space, per bird, than a regular 8.5"-by-11" sheet of paper.
- In recent years, studies conducted around the world have shown that chickens are quite intelligent, with complex cognitive, communicative and social abilities.
- The European Union banned battery cages in 1999 (allowing a 12-year phase out).
Like chickens, turkeys are housed in groups on the floors of long sheds where they are denied fresh air, sunshine and pasture. They are forced to breathe dangerously high levels of ammonia emanating from their own waste.
Modern factory-farmed turkeys look very little like their wild ancestors. For one, they are disproportionately breast-heavy (a result of genetic selection), reflecting a consumer preference for breast meat, and their having been selectively bred for extremely accelerated growth. Their unnaturally fast and disproportionate growth causes turkeys extraordinary suffering, including pain and difficulty simply walking or breathing.
Turkeys’ bodies have become so unnaturally disproportionate that they can no longer mate with one another. They are bred year-round via artificial insemination, damaging their bodies that were only meant to reproduce once per year.
- Between 1965 and 2000, the weight of the average turkey raised for food in the U.S. increased by 57%.
- Factory-farmed turkeys have the innate urge to perch and fly, but are too large to do so.
- Although turkeys can live to 10 years old, at U.S. factory farms they are killed for food at just a few months old.
Cows are raised and processed across several distinct industries, all of which, in the U.S., rely heavily on factory farming. Cows suffer greatly in the beef, dairy and veal industries.
Cows raised for meat are the only factory farmed animals still raised largely outdoors. However, this does not mean they have easy or pain-free lives. They are branded and castrated without painkillers, may have their horns removed without painkillers, and live outdoors amid all weather extremes.
Sometime between the ages of six months and one year, beef cows are sent to live their last few months in feedlots with hundreds or even thousands of others. Without pasture and often without shelter, the cows must stand in mud, ice, and their own waste.
- Cows can live to 25 years, but beef cows are generally killed at just one to three years of age.
- To increase their weight, beef cows are fed an unnatural grain diet that is very hard on their bodies, causing illness, pain and sometimes death.
Most cows used for dairy production are kept indoors, with some having access to outdoor concrete or dirt paddocks. Cows in the dairy industry are forced to suffer through:
Widespread Infections: Unnaturally high milk production leads to mastitis, a painful bacterial infection causing a cow’s udder to swell. In 2007, 79% of farms that reported permanently removing cows from their herds did so because of mastitis.
Surgical Mutilation: Dairy cows often have up to two-thirds of their tails surgically removed without painkillers. Producers believe the udder stays cleaner this way, even though this theory has been disproven. The cows are also dehorned (have their horns cut or burned off), generally without painkillers.
Separation of Mother and Baby: Just as with humans, cows only produce milk as a side effect of giving birth. Their milk is meant for their young. To keep the milk flowing, dairy farms artificially inseminate cows once a year. Their gestation period lasts nine months, so the majority of dairy cows’ lives are spent pregnant. When a calf is born, he or she is removed from the mother—generally that same day—to make the mother’s milk available for collection. Male offspring are often raised for veal, while females become the next generation of dairy cows.
While large-scale dairy operations are typically separate from beef cattle operations, these industries are connected. Dairy cows usually meet their ends at beef slaughterhouses when, at just two to five years of age, their milk production has slowed or they are too crippled or ill to continue in the industry. At that point, they are slaughtered for beef.
- Today’s dairy cows each produce about 100 pounds of milk per day—10 times more than cows living just a few decades ago. This is due to bovine growth hormones, unnatural diets and being bred selectively for massive milk production.
- 75% of downed animals are dairy cows.
- About 9 million cows are being used for milk production in the United States at any given time.
Veal is the meat of unwanted young male cows born to dairy cows. As males, veal calves are of little use to the dairy industry, and as a dairy breed, they are inefficient beef producers.
Traditional veal meat was made pale and tender by restricting calves’ diets and keeping them in stalls so small they could barely move. Increasingly, calves are housed in groups beginning at about six weeks old, but they still lack sufficient space, outdoor exercise, solid food and even the fulfillment of a most basic instinct: the need to suckle.
At an age when they would normally be nurtured and protected by their mother, the calves are forced to live alone with no physical contact with other cows. And while calves normally explore their world by grazing, playing and socializing, factory-farmed veal calves are generally kept indoors with few if any environmental enrichments.
- Consuming dairy products supports the veal meat industry. Veal calves are generally taken from their dairy-cow mothers within a day of birth.
- Veal calves’ diets and movements are tightly restricted to keep their muscles from developing, which makes the resulting meat tender.