Factory Farming

Gone are the days of the small farm. Farming has become a massive business like many others, with responsibilities only to its stockholders, and the goal of making maximum profit in minimum time. Factory farming treats animals like commodities, objects, and machines. Many are owned by corporations, yet many are owned by families. They are all alike in the treatment of animals as "production units."

Interested in making the switch to "humane," organic meat? Learn whether it's as good as you expect.

Animal Cruelty Issues

Chickens and Turkeys

Severely debeaked chicken.

Chickens raised for meat or eggs are debeaked without anesthesia, as are turkeys.

Space

In factory farming, each chicken is given less than half of one square foot of space. Turkeys receive less than three square feet. After they hatch, both chickens and turkeys have the ends of their beaks cut off to prevent them from attacking each other in their crowded, unnatural conditions.1 No anesthesia or painkiller is used. This process, which is known as “debeaking”, has been compared to having your lips or the ends of your fingers cut off, and deprives the birds of one of their most important sources of sensory input.2

A debeaked bird cannot eat properly or explore her environment fully, nor can she preen herself or her flockmates.  She may also experience acute and chronic pain in her beak, head, and face.3  Debeaking is also becoming less common in "broiler" chickens--those raised for meat--as the birds are only 45 days old at slaughter and therefore, too young to form any kind of social order.4  This is not the case for egg-laying hens.  

Debeaking is only one of the mutilations performed on turkeys. They also have their toes cut off; when they are one-day old, a pair of "five-inch surgical shears" is used to clip off "the tip of the toe...including all of the toenail."  The snood--the colourful, fleshy appendage that hangs over a turkey's beak--is also cut off, often with no more than a pair of scissors.5,6 Like debeaking, all of these tasks are performed without anesthesia, and they appear to result in acute and chronic pain.7

Dozens of turkey chicks in a rotating debeaking machine.

Turkey hatchlings are debeaked without painkillers. (Photo: Compassion Over Killing)

Growth

Both chickens and turkeys in modern factory farms have been genetically engineered and pumped with antibiotics; as a result they grow much faster than ever before. For example, in the 1960's, it took a turkey 32 weeks to reach slaughter size, but now it takes only 13-16 weeks. In the 1950’s, it took a chicken 84 days to reach five pounds. Today, it takes 45 days8 , meaning that they are not even old enough to cluck yet when they die.

"[B]roilers now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses." —Martin D, "Researcher Studying Growth-Induced Diseases in Broilers," Feedstuffs, May 26, 1997.

“Is it more profitable to grow the biggest bird and have increased mortality....[S]imple calculations suggest that it is better to get the weight and ignore the mortality.” — Tabler GT, Mendenhall AM, “Broiler Nutrition, Feed Intake and Grower Economics,” Avian Advice 5(4) (Winter 2003): 8–10.

When it comes to turkeys, they have been bred to have such large breasts that they cannot even mount and mate on their own. A method of artificial insemination is their sole means of reproduction. Breeding toms are kept in the dark for most of their lives and milked for their semen once or twice a week, while females are “cracked open” (the term used by industry representatives) twice a week. Their legs are clamped into metal forceps and they are inseminated, one after the other, as workers hurry to inseminate between 1,200 and 1,400 turkeys within two hours.

Each tom house contained about 400 males, 20 to a pen. The toms are milked once or twice a week until they are about 64 weeks old (16 mo.), by which time they can weigh up to 80 lbs. The hens are inseminated usually once, sometimes twice a week, for about a year. When these breeding birds reach the end of their cycle, they are killed and turned into lunch meat, pot pies, and pet food.

 

The insemination crew did 2 houses a day--6000 hens a day. Figuring a 10-hour day, that's 600 hens per hour, ten a minute. Two breakers did 10 hens a minute, or each breaker "broke" 5 hens a minute--one hen every 12 seconds.

 

This pace pressured the drivers to keep a steady flow of birds into the chute to supply the pit. Having been through this week after week, the birds feared the chute and bulked and huddled up. The drivers literally kicked them into the chute. The idea seemed to be to terrify at least one bird, who squawked, beat her wings in panic, and terrified the others in her group. In this way the drivers created such pain and terror behind the birds that it forced them to plunge ahead to the pain and terror they knew to be in the chute and pit ahead. 9

One factory worker described how young turkeys are curious and friendly with employees “until the first couple AIs—and then they run from you…”10

Like chickens, turkeys suffer from their considerable growth, leading Feedstuffs, an farm industry journal, to state:

Turkeys have been bred to grow faster and heavier but their skeletons haven't kept pace, which causes "cowboy legs." Commonly, the turkeys have problems standing and fall and are trampled on or seek refuge under feeders, leading to bruises and downgradings as well as culled or killed birds.11

 

Transport and slaughter

In Canada, turkeys and chickens can legally be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water, or rest, and there are no limits as to the length of the journey.  These standards are among the worst in the industrialized world.12  They are transported in open-air crates, resulting in high mortality as the birds are exposed to all sorts of weather.  Each bird is worth so little, however, that it is cheaper overall for the industry to use open-air crates.  Every year in Canada, 2 million broiler chickens and 20,000 turkeys are already dead when they arrive at slaughterhouses.  An additional 8 million broiler chickens and 200,000 turkeys arrive so diseased or injured that they are considered "unfit for human consumption".13 

Turkeys on the way to slaughterhouse.

Turkeys on the way to the slaughterhouse.  Some have already died as a result of rough handling and the stresses of open-air transport. (Photo: United Poultry Concerns)

The surviving birds are handled roughly at the slaughterhouse, where they are unloaded by forklift and dropped onto a conveyor belt. With thousands of birds to be processed every hour, there is no reason for employees to stop and pick up the individual birds who miss the belt and fall to the ground.

When it comes time to slaughter the birds, they are hung by their feet on a moving rail and dragged through the stunning tank, an electrified water bath meant to stun and immobilize them. These are often set lower than is necessary to truly render the birds unconscious out of concerns that high voltage might damage the carcass and therefore diminish its value.

They are then carried past the tank to have their throats cut either by a mechanical blade or a plant employee. Often, struggling birds are cut improperly. As a result they are moved, fully conscious, to the scalding tank, where they are boiled alive.  Estimates place the number of affected birds at about one in twenty; at any rate, this occurrence is so common that the industry has a term for it: “redskins.”14

In an affidavit signed on January 30, 2003, former slaughterhouse worker Virgil Butler wrote that when chickens are scalded alive, they “flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads. They often come out of the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they’ve struggled so much in the tank.”15

Click to see more pictures of chickens and turkeys.  

Cattle

Mother cow with broken neck.

This cow's neck was broken as she was forcibly separated from her calf. (Photo: Farm Sanctuary)

The average beef cow is born and lives on the range for the first months or years of their life. Medical care is often not provided to these animals; consequently, many fall ill and even die. A particularly common problem amongst cattle is known as "cancer eye," wherein a form of malignant cancer develops in the cow's eye and eventually eats away at their face. 16

Mutilations

Ranches still identify their cows in the same manner that cowboys on the range used: hot iron branding. While being branded, the animals bellow and scream.  "Don't get tenderhearted," states one website on the subject.  "The branding iron must burn deep enough to burn the hair and the outer layer of skin."17 "Waddling”—cutting out a chunk of the skin hanging beneath the cow’s neck—is also often used as a method of identification. 18

In Canada, cows are also required to wear ear tags, which are punched through the centre of their ears. 19

These animals also suffer additional painful mutilations.  Males are castrated--their testicles either sliced out, crushed, or pinched with a rubber band that cuts off bloodflow to the scrotum.20 Horns are also removed.  Young calves have their horn buds either scooped out with a special tool or burned off with an electric dehorner; older ones have the horns cut away at a deep level (to prevent them from growing back) or even sawed off.  This often results in "quite a bit" of blood loss.21

Hormones

Hormonal growth promoters are legal in Canadian beef, though they have been banned by the European Union. There are six in use. Three are natural: progesterone, testosterone, and estradiol-17ß. Three are synthetic: trenbolone acetate (TBA), zeranol, and melengestrol acetate (MGA). The hormones are administered in the cows' feed or via implants under the skin, typically behind the ear. 22

Transport and slaughter

About 3 months before they are to be killed, range cattle—confused by the presence of humans and their sudden confinement—are rounded up and brought into feedlots. There they are fattened on unnaturally rich diets that cause metabolic problems, crowded by the thousands into dusty, manure-laden feedlots.

Cattle may be transported to several different places during their lives, often up to hundreds or thousands of miles in a single trip. In Canada, they can legally be transported for up to 52 hours without food, water, or rest, and there are no limits as to the length of the journey.  These standards are among the worst in the industrialized world.23 These long trips, during which the animals are exposed to all types of weather, are extremely stressful and often result in death. This “shipping fever” costs the industry over $1 billion a year. 24

A downed cow left to die.

A downed cow left to die in the stockyard parking lot. (Photo: Farm Sanctuary)

Once they get to the slaughterhouse, the cows are meant to be stunned through a mechanical blow to the head; however, with 250 cows to be processed every hour, this is often done improperly and the animals struggle, still alive.

In an April 2001 article, the Washington Post reported:

The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to Moreno. But too often they weren't.


They blink. They make noises, he said softly. The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around. Still Moreno would cut. On bad days, he says, dozens of animals reached his station clearly alive and conscious. Some would survive as far as the tail cutter, the belly ripper, the hide puller. They die, said Moreno, piece by piece...


"...this happens on a daily basis," said Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian and formerly chief government inspector at a Pennsylvania hamburger plant. "I've seen it happen. And I've talked to other veterinarians. They feel it's out of control." 25

Temple Grandin, Professor of animal science at Colorado State University, was commissioned by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to tour slaughterhouses in Ontario and Quebec. Her conclusions?

"Canada is falling behind the U.S... Plants in Ontario and Quebec get failing grades".26

During her visit to Canada, Grandin noted:

Out of five beef plants, two failed because of excessive use of electric prods, cattle falling on slippery floors as they lined up to be stunned, and three cattle were actually hanging upside down (hung by a chain around one leg) and bellowing as their throats were being slit.27

For pictures, please click here

Pigs

Canada slaughters an average of 20 million pigs every year; approximately 250,000 are from British Columbia.28 29 6 million live pigs are exported to the United States annually.30 In 2003, managers of Canada’s largest pig exporter faced cruelty charges when 10,000 dead or dying pigs were found on the company’s farms. Investigators discovered dead pigs piled behind barns as well as dead piglets in manure tanks, and all live pigs "were in some form of distress." 31

Gestation Crates and Piglets

Mother pigs in gestation crates.

Mother pigs on farms spend their entire lives in these gestation crates.

There are about 1 million mother pigs in Canada, and they spend most of their lives in individual "gestation" crates, which are about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide—too small for the pigs to even to turn around. They will spend 3 to 5 years in these crates before being slaughtered. 32 This confinement produces stress- and boredom-related behaviours in these highly intelligent animals, such as the compulsive gnawing of cage bars, swaying, or pressing against water bottles. 33

In 2007 Maple Leaf Foods, the largest pork producer in Canada, announced plans to phase gestation crates out in 10 years in favour of group housing systems; these allow for a degree of freedom of movement and socialization. This change will affect about 116,000 pigs annually.34

Experience life in a virtual gestation crate:

After giving birth, mother pigs are moved to "farrowing" crates, which are wide enough for them to lie down and nurse their babies but still not large enough for them to turn around or build nests for their young. An average of 20 piglets are born to each pig annually, and 15% of these piglets die within 2 to 3 weeks. The others are taken from their mother and raised in metal pens with concrete floors.35

After this, piglets are packed into pens until they are separated to be raised for breeding or meat.36 These overcrowded conditions lead to stress-related behaviors, such as cannibalism and tail-biting. To prevent this, farmers cut off the piglets’ tails and use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth. No pain-killers are used.37 Pieces are also torn out of the piglets' ears, to make individual pigs easier to identify.38

In Canada and the United States, male piglets are also castrated at an early age to prevent "boar taint", a harmless but unappealing "urine, faeces, musk or onions" scent that is released when the meat of an adult male pig is cooked. 39 40 This painful removal of the testicles, like the other "alterations," is done without any pain-killers. 41

For more pictures, please click here.

Pigs in crowded, barren cages

Pigs raised for food are confined in crowded, barren pens. (Photo: Farm Sanctuary)

 

Learn more about factory farming:

  • Fish
  • Foie Gras
  • Veal
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
    1. 1. ThePoultrySite.com, Unintended Consequences of Confined Animal Facilities, November 2004
    2. 2. Philip C. Glatz, ed., Beak Trimming, 2005, p. 77.
    3. 3. Philip C. Glatz, ed., Beak Trimming, 2005, p. 47.
    4. 4. United Poultry Concerns, Poultry Press, winter 2007
    5. 5. A COK Report: Animal Suffering in the Turkey Industry
    6. 6. Ensminger ME, Poultry Science (Danville, IL: Interstate Publishers, Inc., 1992), p. 338.
    7. 7. A COK Report: Animal Suffering in the Turkey Industry
    8. 8. Compassion Over Killing, 45 Days: The Life and Death of a Broiler Chicken
    9. 9. Observer, Frank, Inside the Turkey Breeding Factory, 1994
    10. 10. Farm Sanctuary News, “Unnatural Breeding Techniques and Results in Modern Turkey Production”, Winter 2007
    11. 11. Feedstuffs, 9 September 1991
    12. 12. Animal Transportation, WSPA
    13. 13. Darah Hansen, "'Incredible' number of animals die on trip to slaughterhouse, SPCA says", Vancouver Sun, Dec. 10, 2008
    14. 14. United Poultry Concerns, Chicken:The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food by Steve Striffler, Yale University Press, 2005
    15. 15. ibid.
    16. 16. Mercy for Animals, Beef
    17. 17. Cowboyshowcase.com, Livestock brands
    18. 18. Farm Sanctuary, Factory Beef Production
    19. 19. Canadian Cattle Identification Agency, FAQ, 2009
    20. 20. Clyde Lane, Jr., et al, Castration of Beef Calves, Jan. 2007
    21. 21. Heather Smith Thomas, With Proper Precautions, Cattle Can Be Dehorned Successfully
    22. 22. Health Canada, Shipping Fever Pneumonia, 2006
    23. 23. Animal Transportation, WSPA
    24. 24. ibid.
    25. 25.

      Warrick, Joby, The Washington Post, "They Die Piece by Piece" 10 April 2006

    26. 26. Harpur, Tom, The Toronto Star, "Western Culture Floats on a Sea of Blood", 21 September 2003
    27. 27. ibid.
    28. 28. Canada Pork International, Hog Production in Canada (Table 1), March 2005
    29. 29. BC Pork, The Pork Industry in British Columbia
    30. 30. United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, "Canadian Pork Industry Overview, September 2003," The PigSite.com, Sep. 2003.
    31. 31. Kelly Pedro, “Pigs Found Dead, Dying. Seven Men Have Been Charged Over the Grim Discovery Involving 10,000 Animals,” The London Free Press, 15 Sep. 2003
    32. 32. Humane Society International: Canada, Gestation Crates, 2009
    33. 33. Marc Kaufman, “In Pig Farming, Growing Concern,” The Washington Post, 18 Jun. 2001
    34. 34. Humane Society International: Canada, Canada’s Largest Pig Producer to End Confinement of Pigs in Gestation Crates, 28 Feb 2007
    35. 35. Humane Society International: Canada, Gestation Crates, 2009
    36. 36. William G. Luce et al., “Managing the Sow and Litter,” Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Mar. 1995
    37. 37. ibid.
    38. 38. L. Neil Burcham, "Identify Pigs by Ear Notching,"Cooperative Extension Service, New Mexico State University, Nov. 1997.
    39. 39. ThePigSite.com, Boar Taint: An Understanding of What It Is, 8 Sept 2008
    40. 40. PutPorkonYourFork.ca, Pork Facts from the Experts, 2009
    41. 41. PigProgress.net, Towards a More Humane Castration for Piglets, 15 July 2007