Factory Farming: The Horrifying Secrets Behind the Scenes

what is factory farming

Image via WeAnimals

Factory farming is arguably one of the cruelest inventions humans have devised to maximize their profits and ensure their businesses’ livelihoods. But what is factory farming?

On a factory farm, the bottom line matters more than anything else. Factory farmers raise their animals to produce food, medications, and other many other consumer products. The lives of these sentient creatures mostly have no value beyond what they can produce for profit.

And, in most cases, the death of the animal is required for these goods to be produced. A death that usually follows a life spent in deplorable conditions with no access to necessities.

Once you peek inside the lives these animals lead in barns, warehouses, and cages, you’ll think twice about how you live, eat, and consume.

What Is Factory Farming?

Factory farming is the practice of housing vast numbers of animals in cramped conditions, often subjecting them to abuse, and using the most efficient ways to harvest eggs, milk, and meat (among other body parts).

The term factory farming is most commonly applied to chickens, cows, and pigs. However, many other animals are regularly subjected to the same treatment.

Some farms use methods that are arguably much more cruel than necessary to contain and “process” animals, while others provide the animals with more freedom. The end result is the same. And in most cases, the differences between factory farming styles are mere nuances where animals still suffer greatly.

In these situations, factory farmers treat animals like widgets on a conveyor belt. The faster the farmers can “process” the animals, the more money they make.

The terms factory farming and cruelty are frequently used in the same sentence. There’s a good reason for that. However, farm animal welfare is just the beginning. The processes used in this practice can also lead to environmental problems and human health issues.

We’ll get into that more below.

You’ve likely heard the term “you are what you eat.” When your body digests the flesh of an animal that has been treated cruelly, given inadequate nutrition, and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, what do you think those qualities inflict on your own body?

It’s not pretty. That’s why we’re spreading the word about factory farm cruelty and its wide-ranging impact on all sentient creatures’ lives — including ourselves.

Do You Know How Animals Are Treated on a Factory Farm?

You might have heard of factory farming before. Maybe you’ve even been forced to watch a documentary about it by a zealous friend or loved one.

We’re not here to preach. We just want to give you the facts so you can make an informed decision next time you browse the meat counter at your local supermarket.

As we’ll illustrate below, animals like pigs and cows aren’t as removed from human intelligence and sentiment as you might think. Watch Animal Planet for an hour each day. Learn how prides of lions, herds of cattle, flocks of ducks, rafters of turkeys, or sounders of pigs relate to one another.

pride of lions

It’s beautiful to behold. And you might see some of these animals’ behaviors reflected even in your own household.

Animals mate with desirable partners, protect their offspring with their lives, grieve the dead, and work as teams to solve problems or reach goals.

Sound familiar?

With that context, let’s look at some of the facts about factory farming so you can gain a better understanding of how the process works.

Animals Are Treated in Inhumane Ways

The word “inhumane” seems to apply to people, doesn’t it? It contains the root word “human.” But Dictionary.com defines inhumane as “not humane; lacking humanity, kindness, compassion, etc.”

Let’s look at the flip side. The word humane means “acting in a manner that causes the least harm to people or animals.” Notice that the definition doesn’t end with people. It includes animals, too.

Many animals go insane while living in factory farms. That’s not an exaggeration. For instance, pigs often live in tiny barred kennels where they can neither stand up nor turn around. They bite the bars, squeal plaintively, and even harm themselves.

Worse, when these animals “misbehave,” they’re often beaten, shocked, or otherwise punished by human workers. The other pigs, who have the ability to feel compassion and fear, look on in terror.

Think about that for a moment.

Pigs, highly intelligent animals and loving pets, are confined, beaten, impregnated, separated from their loved ones, and slaughtered. No joy, exercise, proper nutrition, or mental stimulation.

But what does factory farming look like?

Chickens Are De-Beaked

debeaking chickens factory farms

At first glance, the practice of de-beaking chickens and other birds, such as turkeys and quail, seems practical. The removal of part of the animal’s beak reduces the damage done to other animals in the CAFO.

But that’s just an excuse. What it really boils down to is mutilation.

Chickens use their beaks to hatch themselves out of their eggs. As they grow up, their beaks become effective grooming tools for the animals’ feathers, the asset they use to grasp food, and a way to protect themselves from threats. When housed in the confined quarters of factory farms and kept within an inch of their lives, chickens can act aggressively against other chickens.

Here are the factory farming facts: De-beaking chickens and other birds represents a convenience to the farmers. If the birds injure one another, the farmers don’t profit as much. That’s the bottom line. For the chickens, however, they’re never spared the pain or reduced quality of life as a result of the barbarism. The physical mutilation is presented as required because of the physical confinement.

Cows and Pigs Get Their Tails Cut Off

Have you ever watched your dog chew on his or her tail? It’s often a sign of boredom. Animals explore the world with their mouths because they don’t have hands, which is why puppy biting and other adverse behaviors can drive pet parents crazy.

Factory farming with cows and pigs often involves the removal of the tails. And we’re not talking about surgery here. None of these animals benefit from an anesthetic, a clean operating room, or post-operative care.

The only reason factory farmers remove the tails is to prevent tail biting and subsequent infection. It sounds logical, but is it humane?

Certainly not. These animals endure cruel mutilation for the convenience of factory farmers. That’s the bottom line. Animals are born with body parts that help them navigate the world safely. Removing those body parts denies the animals their right to a wholesome life.

Here are the factory farming facts: Tail removal causes immediate and lasting pain to the animal. Further, the lack of hygiene resulting from crowded cages, pens, and floors in factory farms contributes anyway to the very infections farmers seek to prevent.

Horses Are Bred for the Purposes of Extracting Urine

Here’s an example different from the chickens, pigs, and cows. Hormone replacement therapy often involves using animal by-products during manufacturing. One such drug, Premarin, is derived from pregnant mare urine. Female horses stand in stalls too small for them to move or turn around. They’re repeatedly impregnated for the purposes of extracting their urine.

That doesn’t sound particularly painful, right? However, the animals live in substandard conditions, denied exercise or a healthy diet. Many never experience fresh air.

Worse, their foals are often removed immediately upon birth. The females go right back into the factory farming biz, producing more profit for the farmers, while their dams (mothers) just get pregnant again.

Here are the factory farming facts: Hormone replacement therapy does not have to include medications that include animal products. Nevertheless, Premarin remains on the market.

Animals Breathe Unhealthy Levels of Ammonia

factory farmed chickens

Imagine that you’re packed inside a shipping container with two hundred strangers. There are no windows. Food remains scarce. No bathroom exists, so everyone relieves themselves inside the confinement area.

Sounds horrific, doesn’t it? Yet that’s the daily reality for most animals in factory farming operations.

Urine contains high concentrations of a chemical called ammonia. You might use it as a disinfecting product in your home.

Ammonia has highly corrosive properties that can damage animals’ respiratory tracts as well as their eyes, noses, and throats. Ammonia can even burn the skin.

After animals spend days, weeks, or months cooped up in the same place, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they invariably come into contact with high concentrations of ammonia, which contributes not only to poor health but pain and discomfort.

Here are the factory farming facts: When animals live in such tight quarters that they can’t even turn around, much less move in one direction or another, they must soil themselves repeatedly. And because of their densely-packed cages, there’s no efficient way to eliminate the waste from the housing area.

Creatures Are Denied Fresh Air, Sunlight, and Other Necessities

Have you ever experienced a moment of cabin fever? You’ve been inside your home for a day, maybe three days, perhaps a week. You’re climbing the walls, as they say.

To relieve the stress, you take a walk, go on a drive, or visit a friend. The tension goes away.

Unfortunately, animals in factories have no such luxuries. Factory farming cruelty extends to denying animals things we take for granted daily. Many never see sunlight or breathe fresh air. They only know the overcrowded pens or cages in which they spend their lives until they’re slaughtered.

Here are the factory farming facts: Farming denies the animals involved their fundamental rights. These animals can never exercise their ingrained instincts.

Genetic Manipulation Further Decreases Quality of Life

Animals, from pigs and cows to chicks and ducks, are bred ceaselessly in factory farmers’ pursuit of the “perfect” animal for maximum sales.

A perfect animal, for a factory farm, is one that grows rapidly or produces lots of milk or eggs with the minimum input.

These animals often have more muscle mass, more fat, and less lean muscle.

Broiler chickens can become so large that their legs can no longer support them.

Factory farmed cows experience joint pain, arthritis, and other health conditions that make them miserable.

Broiler chickens are the perfect example of the unnatural optimization of production that factory farming industry imposes on the animals.

A broiler chicken today weighs about 4.2kg (9.3 lbs) when ready for slaughter, at only 8 weeks old. A broiler chicken of the same age in 1957 would weigh only 0.9kg (2 lbs).

They are bred to grow maximum breast meat tissue, for example. But the chicken’s internal organs and bone structure are not optimized in the same way – indeed, why would they, since they do not benefit the factory farming business?

This means that the broiler chickens lungs can barely provide them enough air, and their legs can barely support them. If one of these broiler chicks fall down, it may just die from the collapse of its internal organs.

That’s the unnatural reality of factory farming.

Many Times, They’re Left to Die in Agony

Imagine a stampede in the wild. Animals flee from some threat out on the prairie, and the weaker members of the herd get trampled. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

Factory farmed cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals experience this fate by virtue of their homes. Some die from a disease, from being trampled by larger members of the species, from lack of nutrition or water, or from unknown causes.

The “lucky ones” make it to the slaughterhouse.

Watch the video below to see how chickens are slaughtered.

Pay careful attention to the chickens whose throats aren’t slit by the blades – this happens constantly as the “kill line” speeds are maximized to produce more chicken meat. It’s heartbreaking and inhumane.

Here are the factory farming facts: No matter how an animal dies on a factory farm, its end is painful and ultimately unnecessary. If cutting throats sounds humane, think about what you’d say if someone offered to do the same to your pet.

Animal Living Standards on a Factory Farm

pigs on factory farm

We’ve already covered some of the animal living standards on factory farms, but let’s dig a little deeper to understand the impact not only to the animals but also on the humans who consume them.

Cramped Spaces

The reality is that space is at a premium, even on a farm. The less room required to house animals, the more the farm business profits.

The farmer brings in more animals to fill the space further until it is so crowded that further additions start to hurt productivity. Or they fill the space until the legal limits for holding animals are hit. Keep in mind that such limits vary by country and even state, and some standards are even open to interpretation.

Some animals live “freely” in pens that allow them no range of movement. Others, like the pigs raised to breed and deliver piglets, suffer in tiny metal cages with no room to move.

The same often goes for cows, horses, and other large animals.

Imagine for yourself living in a three-foot by three-foot cell for a few days. Now, imagine living in that space all your life, while surrounded by thousands of strangers in equally restricted conditions.

Do you think you would suffer under those conditions?

While humans technically have more brain power than animals on factory farms, scientific studies prove that animals are smarter than we normally think and also experience emotions previously attributed only to humans.

For more context, watch this TED talk by Carl Safine, a conservationist, writer, and speaker. He delivers a moving and funny speech about how animals think. It’s all rooted in science.

As you can see from the video above, animals experience thoughts and emotions.

Ask yourself – if we deny sentient beings basic rights of welfare, safety, space and natural conditions to live – are we committing acts of cruelty?

If it is not necessary to eat animal flesh and other products (and as shown by tens of millions of vegans from doctors to Olympic athletes, it is not necessary), is factory farming even necessary?

Disease-Ridden Populations

If you’ve ever sent a child to daycare or school, you have probably experienced him or her coming home with the sniffles.

Diseases spread. That’s what viruses and bacteria do to propagate their own species. Just as humans who spend lots of time together share diseases, so do animals.

The speed and rate of disease sharing accelerate quickly in factory farming conditions. Infections, parasites, viruses, and other diseases are commonplace. Worse, those diseases don’t necessarily stop factory farmers from butchering the animals and shipping them off for human consumption.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the use of antibiotics by factory farming.

Alarmingly, over 70% of “medically important antibiotics” in the U.S. are used by the factory farming industry on their animals to keep them from succumbing to disease in their unhygienic conditions. With antibiotic-resistant microbes on the rise, factory farming is one of biggest direct threats to human health.

Why Should You Care About Factory Farming Conditions?

caring about factory farm animals

We’ve laid out the facts, right? You’re confident in your understanding of the definition of factory farming and how the process works in principle.

But why should you care?

After all, you’re not the one exposing these animals to deplorable conditions.

You’re a consumer, you’ve bought into the food industry’s marketing that “the more protein the better” (another misleading myth we’ll bust in another article), and you really love your cheeseburgers.

What we’ve covered so far are the facts. But when you consider the impact of those facts, you might get a more visceral idea of what factory farming does to animals, your health, and the rest of the world.

No Sentient Being Deserves to Live Like This

There’s no denying that animals are sentient creatures.

If you spend part of your day in a YouTube spiral, you might have seen videos of elephants crying over a fallen member of the herd, big cats celebrating a new birth, dolphins leading wayward sailors to shore, pigs being loving parents, and many more examples.

You might have the opportunity to look inside your own home to understand better. Do your pets greet you after you return from a long absence? Do they readily respond to commands? And do they comfort you when you’re feeling ill?

We see examples of animal sentience all around us. They might not be able to understand things as quickly or as logically as we can, but they can learn and love. They don’t have language to make up elaborate excuses for their instincts as we do, but they experience joy, pain, desire, and fear very much as we do.

No sentient being deserves to live in a factory farming environment. Would you willingly send Rover or Fluffy to one of the places we’ve described? Of course not.

And if you see the conditions in person, you might never touch another chicken nugget again.

Poor Living Conditions = Sick Animals = Sick People

We mentioned earlier the popular saying, “we are what we eat.” That’s true in more than one way.

If you consume an animal who had a disease upon slaughter, you could develop a sickness after consuming that animal. It doesn’t happen all the time, and the conditions might not be the exact same.

Maybe you’ve bitten into a steak and known instinctively that something was off. It happens, and in severe cases, it can lead to death.

E.Coli infections from contaminated beef have caused severe illness and even death.

In September 2018, Newsweek reported that a recall was issued for 130,000 pounds of ground beef. The outbreak caused 17 illnesses and one death.

If you don’t oppose factory farming on behalf of the animals, consider your own safety. Contaminants like E.coli and Salmonella are particularly dangerous for young children and the elderly.

Factory Farm Animals Take Antibiotics and Develop Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

You might have heard about antibiotic resistance. It’s caused when a person or animal consumes too many antibiotics, allowing the bacteria targeted to adapt. Subsequently, antibiotics don’t kill the bacteria.

This happens in factory farming because farmers distribute antibiotics routinely through food, which results in mass consumption. When the animal develops antibiotic resistance, the bacteria can flourish — and make its way onto your dinner plate.

Microbes that have evolved to resist antibiotics now sicken 2 million Americans each year and kill 23,000 others and much of that is attributable to factory farming directly or indirectly.

Factory Farming Leads to High Animal Death Rates

high death rates on factory farms

Animal lovers typically extend their affection beyond dogs, cats, rabbits, and other domesticated pets.

When you see a herd of cows grazing in a pasture or a tribe of goats playfully chasing one another through a field, who wouldn’t want to stop to watch and share in their joy?

Factory farming turns those same animals into commodities. They aren’t allowed to roam open fields, form relationships within their groups, pursue natural mating rituals, or create bonds with humans.

Instead, they’re treated in ways that are systematically cruel until they die or get slaughtered.

What is factory farming? It’s a way for human beings to profit off animals who would otherwise live out pleasant lives in the wild or on a humane farm. It is a system that brings new animals into the world, just to be processed like inanimate objects in a factory.

Manure Runoff Causes Environmental and Human Health Crises

Concentrated feeding operations also create concentrated excrement. This manure actually can have a lot of positive uses. It helps plants to grow, improves the quality of soil, and adds nutrients to the ground.

Scientists have even found ways to remove the bacteria from manure and harness it to generate power. On the downside, dirty manure can even move animal-borne diseases to the plants that are being fertilized with it.

But importantly, manure runoff creates human health crises and negatively impacts the environment.

Manure runoff occurs most frequently in factory farming operations.

These businesses house thousands of animals who produce tons of manure over months and years. When the slurry is simply cast aside, or if there is a runoff as a result of flooding or leaking of the “manure lagoons”, it finds its way into the groundwater and natural waterways with terrifying consequences.

When manure runoff reaches a certain saturation point, it can contaminate the water we drink and bathe in. Furthermore, it promotes algae growth in bodies of water and can contaminate the environments of aquatic life, such as fish.

Businesses and Homes Near Factory Farms Experience Negative Consequences

Imagine you live in a semi-rural area. You have a large backyard, a beautiful house, and a quiet street. Then a factory farm moves in up the road.

Suddenly, house prices plummet. You or your family members might get sick. You could even hear the animals from your back porch when you’re trying to enjoy a late summer evening.

The aforementioned manure runoff can contaminate well water of rural residents. People who live in these areas often can’t sell their homes because nobody wants to buy them. The same goes for businesses.

Alarmingly, factory farms are setting up operations closer and closer to residences, schools, and nurseries across the country.

Family Farms Can’t Compete With Factory Farming

Business is pretty simple when you boil it down to its most basic parts. The company that can produce products faster and more efficiently wins.

What does this mean for family farms? They can’t survive. The people who raised animals in humane conditions for years — even centuries in some parts of the world — have been forced to sell their properties and leave their businesses behind.

When factory farming and other corporatized businesses squeeze out the hard-working small business owners, many people suffer. If you know a traditional farmer, you might ask him or her how family farming has impacted his or her life. You probably don’t know one if you live in a developed Western country, though – they are a very rare breed these days.

Interestingly, factory farming hurts even the factory farmers. Many farmers operate as “contract farmers” to the large agriculture industry businesses, who in turn require high productivity at a low cost. This is a recipe for animal suffering, high health risks, and highly concentrated operations.

Conclusion

factory farmed cows free range

Whether you love animals up close, appreciate them from a distance, or think very little of them, you know what suffering means. Now that you have the factory farming definition and some facts about how it works, you might think differently about what you serve your family for dinner.

Make no mistake: You don’t need to film a documentary, lobby Congress, or write lengthy exposes on factory farms (though by all means do if you want!). By far, the best way to protest factory farming is with cold, hard cash.

When you don’t spend your hard-earned money on the products of factory farming, you send a clear message to the farmers. If enough people refuse to buy these products, factory farms would have to shut down — or change the way they operate.

Animals should have rights. Let’s create a world where we appreciate animals and treat them respectfully.

What do you think about factory farming?

Mikko is the founder of Sentient Media.

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