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My disclaimer: Not everybody wants to know what happens to animals on factory farms as this information is highly disturbing and they want to believe in the happy animal farm of the old days. In the interest of providing you with the facts, I will not try to conceal the ugliness of this process. If you are one of these people, I would advise skipping this page and directing your attention at the health and environmental benefits of a vegan diet.
However, having a basic understanding of the factory farming system will help your understanding of the vegan diet. Also, if these animals have to deal with it, we should be strong enough to read about it. Believe me, it's not easy for me to write it either.
I fully believe that there is no way someone could truly understand what happens to these animals and still eat them, and I know this would require a life change, so I understand when people are not ready to know about it. You could always wait until you are ready and then return to this page. For those who are ready...
Before I started reading about the vegan diet, I had never heard the term "factory farms" before. I am guessing most people are the same way.
A factory farm is a large production animal farm. The focus is ontreating the animals like machines in a factory. It is nothing like the family farms of old, and nothing like we people from cities picture a farm to be. They are more like a factory than a farm-- a huge warehouse where thousands of animals are caged.
The goal of a "farmer" on these farms is to maximize profit and minimize expenses. On an animal farm, the largest expense is the food for all these animals, so the farmer gets the cheapest and easiest to distribute food available.
Another huge expense would be care for so many animals. Rather than getting more people to take care of animals, change food bowls, maintain crates, make sure the animals are healthy, they just eliminate this expense. Sick animals are left to die. Veterinarians are expensive and would have to make multiple daily trips to the farm, so rather than hiring them, they feed all the animals antibiotics to control diseases.
There are many interesting things in the feed for these animals. Vitamins A and D are added so the animals will not need exposure to sunlight, as well as growth enhancing hormones and appetite suppressants. They also consume a huge amount of pesticides and fertilizers from plants that are grown specifically as animal feed, all of which gets stuck in their cells and tissue. Animal products actually carry a much larger amount of pesticides than fruits and vegetables, so if you eat meat, you might as well forget about eating organic vegetables.
One of the great resources that I used when researching factory farms is an organization called Vegan Outreach. Click here for vivid pictures and great detail about factory farms.
On factory farms, chickens fall into two categories-- broilers and layers. Broilers are those that we eat whole and layers are those whose eggs we eat, and then whose bodies we eventually eat in chicken soup and other foods. There are about 6 billion broiler chickens produced every year, and about 250 million layer hens.
Factory farms only need female layer hens, so if a male is born, he is thrown into a dumpster and either suffocates or is later ground up alive. Those lucky female layer hens are kept in a slanted wire crate where they have less than 1/2 square foot of space to live.
To make things cheaper for the "farmer", there are 4-8 other hens in the same cage and when one dies, she is usually left in the cage and the others walk on her. And, they die often-- sometimes because they are suffocated by the feathers of another, or from the ammonia from the feces in the warehouse (farmers wear masks in the barns), or their bones break, or because they stand in one place for so long, their feet grow around the cage wire and they are trampled. Chickens have even been found to have heart attacks from the stressful conditions.
Because there are so many chickens--about a hundred thousand-- in one factory farm warehouse, one or two people cannot reach all of these animals to help them. The dead animals are often left to decompose in the same cage. To cut down on illnesses, the chickens are fed antibiotics. Also, chickens lay eggs based on moon cycles, and so the lights are turned on and off at odd times to force molting, and it creates a high level of stress.
In the wild, chickens peck at the ground for insects and grains, and they stretch their wings, but at on factory farms, they are unable to use their instincts. This drives them crazy and they end up peck at one another. To stop this, factory farms now use a hot razor to clip the tip of their beaks off. These beaks are highly sensitive, so this is painful, and those cuts often become infected.
When the layer hens are no longer able to produce eggs, usually around 1-year old, they are sent to slaughter to be used in lower quality chicken products. Many of them are so undernourished and sick that their bones break when they are picked up, or when they are sent to the slaughterhouse for human consumption.
The broilers have a slightly better life--living on the ground of a barn full of 50,000 chickens, rather than in crates. They are fattened on high fat feed (with antibiotics) and genetically designed to grow much faster than they would in the wild, and in key areas- breast and thigh.
This allows farmers to process more chickens for sale and to make a greater profit. But, the chicken body cannot support so much weight so early, and often broiler chickens cannot walk when they are slaughtered at 7 weeks of age because of the weight of their breasts. Americans love those chicken breasts though.
As a side note, factory farmed turkey farming provides turkeys much of the same life as a broiler chicken, they are fattened as well, and usually their breast area is so large that they topple over from the weight.
When the broilers (and turkeys) are nice and fat and ready to be eaten, they are sent to the slaughterhouse. They are hung by their legs and sent upside down on a conveyor belt that sends an electric shock to their heads to stun them, and then cuts their throat, allowing the blood to leak to the ground.
Is cage-free any better? No, not really. Cage-free just means that the chickens are allowed access to the outside. Eggs can be called cage free if the outside access is a tiny door, and even if there is a tiny area outside that could never hold as many chickens are as in the barn.
And, even if all those conditions existed on factory farms, the chickens still have no reason to go through the small door to the small outside area because their food is inside. The same is true of "free-range," it is almost never the type of free range that we imagine.
Some of the terms used by egg farmers are even more insulting, "animal-friendly" means literally nothing, and can be put on virtually any egg carton, even those from chickens in battery cages. There are no federal regulations about animal welfare, so they can get away with it legally.
There are two types of cows on factory farms-- dairy and beef. About 300 million cattle are raised for meat and 200 million for dairy worldwide, according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Cows are ruminants, which means that they eat grass. They have an extra stomach to process this type of food. Dairy cows are fed corn, soybeans, and sometimes alfalfa, none of which is natural to them, and all of which are mixed with antibiotics to decrease diseases. Some are injected with Bovine Growth Hormone, which enables them to grow bigger, faster, and doubles the dairy cow's milk.
Beef cows are sometimes allowed to be free-range, and this can either mean that they get to eat grass in the pasture for a portion of their lives, or that they are in an enclosed area on the range where the grass has long-since been eaten. If they are free-range, they are almost always sent to a feed-mill to be fattened at the end of their lives.
The beef cows are often dehorned and castrated without anesthesia. This is done because in close quarters cattle show signs of aggressiveness, so rather than give them more room to roam, the farmers mutilated the animals.
At feed-mills, cows are fed the corn and soybeans diet because it is fattening and makes their meat soft and tasty for humans. This quick fattening is very hard on their bodies as they are carrying much more weight than nature intended, and often their bones are quite brittle from lack of nutrition.
Dairy cows only need to be females, so if a dairy cow gives birth to a male, he is taken from his mother a few days after birth and becomes veal. In the wild, cows stay with their moms for about 9-12 months. Both mother and son grieve and cry for days from losing the other.
These veal cows are chained in a tiny stall for 4-5 months and are fed milk with a very low amount of protein and iron so their muscles never develop and their meat doesn't become tough. The less nutrition and exercise that a veal cow can get, the better, because his meat is very soft and delicious to humans. This "white meat" practice is illegal in the European Union, but still allowed in the US.
The mother dairy cow, and any daughters she has, are also kept in close quarters, typically in a small pen, large conveyor belt, or if they are lucky enough to be free-range, a grass-less yard. The demand for milk is so high in the United States that these cows are made to produce an average of about 9.5 tons of milk per year, which is 4 times more than the average 60 years ago.
In the wild, cows only produce milk when they are pregnant or breast-feeding their newborn child. On factory farms, cows are kept pregnant constantly so that they are economically useful to the farmer. This is sometimes done by forcing her into an enclosed area and allowing a bull to impregnate her, while she is still lactating from her previous baby. This constant state of pregnancy is stressful for the cow and keeps her udders quite full. They often get swollen, painful udders and diseases from the constant lactation.
Once dairy cows can no longer produce milk, they are sent to be slaughtered, in the same type of place as the beef cows go. Usually, this is only after 4-5 years, whereas cows have a lifespan of about 20 years. Often the beef cows are transfered many times in their lives-- from their birthplace to their range to their feedlot to the slaughterhouse.
Cows are not accustomed to traveling, so this process is highly stressful. Again, they are crammed together for economic efficiency, are not given breaks to go to the bathroom, eat, or drink, so they are standing in feces, hungry, and thirsty. Many have broken bones from their treatment, and some die on the way to the slaughterhouse.
The slaughterhouse for a cow is a long narrow tunnel where they can hear other cows shrieking ahead of them. At the end of the path they are stunned, but sometimes it misses. Then their legs are tied and they hang upside down, or are on a conveyor belt to be cut open. Many are still awake and fully conscious, all are alive as they are cut for steaks.
Pigs are known to be one of the smartest animals, and have an awareness greater than that of a dog. Like dogs, they are highly social and affectionate and enjoy associating with groups of pigs. If a huge corporation was treating dogs the way 1.3 billion pigs per year worldwide are treated, I guarantee that place would be out of business.
Pregnant pigs are kept in tiny cages with a chain tied to their neck so they can't move around. In the wild, pigs build nests and are excellent mothers. On factory farms, pigs live on concrete floors where their poop gathers, or on top of grates where the poop can fall through the floor.
Baby pigs are removed from their mothers when they are weaned at 3-4 weeks, whereas in the wild it takes 13-19 weeks. The stress from losing her child is enormous for the pig, and it often leads to stomach infections from the remaining milk. Within a few days, the mother pig is re-impregnated and returned to the crate. With this process, she has 20 pigs a year, as compared to 6-8 naturally.
Either way, the ammonia smell is intense, and they never exercise the instinct to nest. Sleeping on concrete or grating is uncomfortable. Their mothering instincts are stunted and in their tight cages, they often roll over on their piglets and accidentally kill them, so they are tied so they can't roll over.
Pig pens on factory farms are tight stalls where thousands of pigs are housed together. Their food is loading with fattening food and antibiotics. In the wild, pigs forage for food beneath slightly beneath the earth, but while crated, they never have the chance to forage. Dead and dying pigs are kept in the crates and the other animals walk on them and nudge them with their noses.
In stressful situations, animals react strangely. Because pigs are so highly intelligent, they are easily bored and need to have stimulation. When they have a limited choice of things to play with, they will start biting at the tails of their crate mates. To prevent this, farmers are now cutting the tails at the base. This is obviously extremely painful and causes infections. Pigs will also bang their heads against their cages, over and over again out of sheer boredom.
Their trip to the slaughterhouse is much the same as with the other animals, but imagine it with an improved understanding of what awaits.
It might be surprising to see a section on fish because it would seem hard to have fish on a factory farm. But actually, because it is more time-consuming and costly to get fish from the ocean, there are now fish factory farms in the US where fish are stocked in ponds in very high quantities and are fed corn meal and, you guessed it, antibiotics.
On these factory farms, the fish are faced with the same conditions as the mammals- overcrowding, injuries, diseases, and death. These are the same fish that Americans eat in fast food restaurants, from the frozen foods department at the grocery store, and even in the fresh fish section.
In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations declared that 75% of the marine stocks in the world are either fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted. That means that we are overfishing our ocean and are about to lose everything in it.
Our larger fish, the predator fish, are almost 90% depleted, and many others are in serious risk of extinction. In an effort to make a profit, fisherman will use a variety of methods to catch fish, from dredging the ocean floor to huge nets that catch everything in the ocean. Most of what is caught and killed in those nets is unsellable, so it's thrown back in the ocean, already dead.