Factory farms are responsible for supplying a great deal of meat to many people worldwide. To do this, they have to raise a massive number of animals. However, is the factory approach to raising and slaughtering cruel to the animals involved?

Factory farms are cruel to animals as they do not adhere to Humane Society’s criteria that defines animal cruelty. These criteria range from malicious to neglectful behavior that hurts or kills animals and deprives them of basic needs such as shelter, veterinary care, water and food.

For the most part, people raise farm animals for food. So, we’re not going to look at whether or not these animals should be killed. We will look at how they are killed and in what manner they are raised and kept. When it comes to chickens and cows, we’ll also look at how factory farmers use them for production.

Factory Farms and Cruelty to Animals

To understand how cruel factory farms are, we need to consider the size and nature of their operations. Basically, the brutality that factory farmers inflict on animals results from the fact that their main focus is to maintain production. In their eyes, animals are products and not living things.

The term “factory farm” is commonly used to describe farms that raise many animals and have a high production of meat to yield hefty profits. The term derives from how animals are raised, confined, and slaughtered in an assembly line fashion (though the slaughterhouses are usually elsewhere).

Factory farms were able to increase production by sacrificing animals' basic needs. But unlike many businesses, factory farms operate with comparatively fewer regulations that lead to harmful practices such as:

  • Utilizing cages that prevent animals from performing even such basic movements as turning around.
  • Providing inadequate and overcrowded floor spaces.
  • Keeping conditions unsanitary due to overcrowding.
  • Performing amputations or alterations on animals with no anesthetic.
  • Allowing animals’ illnesses to go untreated.
  • Using abusive practices to obtain higher breeding and growth rates.

Factory Farms Have Inadequate Living Spaces

Chicken cage in factory farm

The living space given for animals is one of the most significant ways factory farm practices are cruel to animals. This is because they strive to fit as many animals in a certain amount of space, basically leaving them in confined and congested areas for their lives. One of the biggest issues is that it leaves animals improperly socialized and frustrated – a ticking time bomb for aggressive behavior.

There are two main types of living: open floors and cages.

From these environments come other practices that mistreat, abuse, and harm animals. The biggest victims of these practices tend to be chickens and hogs. But cows are also subject to cruel practices in factory farms, including dairies.

Open Floors

Open floors or range areas sound great at first because you think that, at the very least, animals have movement. But the movement they do have is highly restricted by overcrowding. Crowded floors lead to:

  • Aggressive behavior on the part of the animals; and
  • Unsanitary conditions.

Because of their size, large numbers of chickens are easy to cram into barns. Chickens raised on the floor are called “broilers” because they are raised for their meat. But just because they are put in large spaces, does not mean that they have much room to move.

The National Chicken Council’s regulations state that each chicken should have about ¾ of a square foot of space. That is an area just a bit bigger than a piece of lined paper.

Having animals share such small spaces makes it virtually impossible to keep the conditions sanitary, resulting in the animals standing in their own urine and feces.

These horrible conditions can also result in chickens succumbing to their untreated illnesses and dying. In some cases, farmers will leave these chickens where they die, among the living chickens.

And it doesn’t stop there, ducks and other kinds of poultry are treated in this manner too.


Factory farms are more notorious for their use of cages. They are usually used for both hogs and chickens as a way of keeping them in place and immobile, particularly as it relates to the:

  • Birthing of piglets; and
  • Laying of eggs.

Female hogs (called sows) stay in individual gestation cages that are only a little bigger than the sows themselves, with no room to turn around. They stay in these cages from just before giving birth through the nursing of their piglets. They are developed to keep sows from crushing their young, but studies show that this is an invalid concern.

Chickens used strictly for laying eggs are called “layers,” and they are separated from the broilers and raised in what are called “battery cages.”

In these cages, hens are not able to spread their wings or turn around. Once they have outlived their usefulness as layers, they are sent to the slaughterhouse to be made into meat.

The European Union has banned battery cages, but they are still at large in the United States. While dairy cows are not caged, they also experience cruel durations of confinements. When they are milking, they are often tethered in small spaces for long periods.

Amputations and Alterations

Often on factory farms, animals must endure medical procedures such as beak removal, tail removal, or teeth clipping without the benefit of anesthetic that veterinarians would usually use. These procedures certainly harm animals and deprive them of even of what they would naturally have.

For example:

  • Chickens’ beaks are often removed to prevent them from pecking each other.
  • Hogs’ and cows’ tails are removed so that they do not have something for another cow or hog to bite into.

Factory farmers consider these procedures necessary for the safety of the animals because bite and beak marks that break the skin can be prone to infection. This is due to the animal’s constant exposure to feces and manure. By removing both beaks and tails, they are removing sources of infection.

But by addressing the problems created by cruel practices, factory farms engage in procedures that perpetuate cruelty, such as “docking,” which is the removal of animals’ tails. The reality is that some animals develop illnesses anyway and die from them because of a lack of proper treatment and medical care.

These practices can also cause the animals undue stress, which perpetuates aggressive behavior that leads to injuries and exposure to infection.

For example, the American Veterinary Medical Association disapproves of regular docking because cows, for example, reduce stress by using the tails to swat away flies.

Cruel Treatment to Increase Breeding and Growth

Pig and piglets in factory farm breeding section

Factory farms also engage in cruel practices on animals to increase their breeding. Breeding is essential for factory farms because it ensures their future production of animals for:

So, the more they can increase breeding, the more productive their farms can be. If they can get more eggs out of the chicken and more milk out of the producing cow, they can create a more considerable profit margin.

This motivation continues throughout the growth cycle of the animal.

The faster that a factory farm can get as many animals as possible to slaughter, the sooner they can create room for more animals. And, of course, the more animals a factory farm can grow, the more animals they want to breed.


Once again, chickens are the biggest victims. Chickens in the United States have to endure a practice called forced molting. Molting is a natural process that chickens go through, usually two times a year when they lose their feathers and grow new ones. During molting, they will often slow down or stop egg production for weeks.

Low or no production affects factory farms’ bottom lines, so they will commonly force molting as a way to get it over with quickly so the chicken will continue laying eggs.

To force molting, they remove food and water from a chicken for a period of seven to 14 days. The result of forced molting is greater production when it is completed.

This practice is not approved of in other parts of the world. It is:

  • Banned in the European Union; and
  • Rarely practiced in Canada.

Forced molting remains a common practice in factory farms in the United States. However, there are ways to get humanely sourced chicken. You can find out all about it here: Is It Cruel to Eat Chicken?

Dairy cows are also abused in terms of how quickly they are bred and used for their milk. They are artificially inseminated, and as soon as their calf is born, the calf is removed. The cow is artificially inseminated again as soon as she stops producing milk. The point is to increase production, but the cow wears out more quickly this way.


The growth rate of animals is a big concern for factory farms because the faster animals achieve the weight gain necessary for consumption, the sooner they can be slaughtered for meat. This has led to unnatural growth rates where chickens, for example, achieve a weight that developmentally they can handle.

Antibiotics were introduced to factory farms in the 1940s when it was found that they could speed up animal growth. Antibiotics have the incidental result of helping stave off infection in factory farm animals, but that is not why they were initially used. With the use of antibiotics, factory farms can accomplish two ends with one means.

At that time, it took about three and ½ months for chickens to become big enough to slaughter. Now, with the use of antibiotics, chickens can reach that weight in just under a month and a half.

Some chickens gain so much weight in such a short time that their legs break, having not developed the strength to support their heavy bodies.


When it comes to reproduction, the rate at which they produce the milk or eggs has increased dramatically over the last several decades so that the speed itself has become cruel to animals because they exhaust their production potential much sooner than they otherwise would, resulting in their slaughter.

A dairy cow’s production has changed over the decades:

  • In 1950 a dairy cow produced, on average, about 5,300 pounds of milk a year.
  • Today a dairy cow produces an average of about 20,000 pounds a year.

Oh yes – just because milk is vegetarian, doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free. If you’re concerned about how much milk you’re drinking, then give this a read: Is the Milk Industry Cruel

When it comes to hens, the difference does not appear as dramatic at first glance. In the 1920s, hens could lay up to 250 eggs a year. Now they lay about 300 eggs a year. This becomes a dramatic difference when you consider that a hen usually would lay about 40 eggs a year.

Once again, eggs are such a staple part of the many diets across the world, and you might not necessarily need to give them up if you don’t want to. We tell you everything you need to know here: Can Eggs Be Cruelty-Free?

The result of maximizing animals’ production is that they wear out sooner than they otherwise would have because they have been forced to produce to limits they are not naturally able to achieve.

The animals are then slaughtered. These are treated as disposable commodities. Once you have used them up, you can throw them away.

Slaughter on Factory Farms

Baby chicks in factory farm incubator

It is essential to first recognize that throughout the long years of human history, the slaughter of animals has always happened, both for food and for other purposes such as religious ceremonies.

The discussion of slaughter in this article does not involve whether or not animals should be slaughtered, but how they are killed.

The United States government instituted into law the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958, which designated what methods of slaughter were considered humane. These include the use of:

  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Captive bolt stunners
  • Guns
  • Electrocution

The Humane Slaughter Act also makes provisions for the treatment of animals both on their way to the slaughterhouse and when they are at the slaughterhouse. For example, animals must be handled carefully, not drugged or forced to go faster than a walk. Also, animals are to be given access to water while they wait.

The Practice of Slaughter

The reality is these practices are not always followed, often because of the sheer number of animals. In the United States, about 800,000 cows are slaughtered every day, which adds up to about 292 million annually.

With that many animals going through a slaughterhouse, it is difficult to hold to the standards that have been put in place.

The stress of transport conditions causes some animals to die on the way to the slaughterhouse, while many more wait for days without access to food or water. Furthermore, lack of proper maintenance of stunners can result in animals not being stunned before being killed.

What’s worse is that this is a kindness compared to how calves are slaughtered for veal. If you’re wondering why this meat is so hard to find, we tell you why here: Is Veal Cruel?

The Exemption of Chickens

Chickens and other birds are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act. With about nine billion chickens killed annually in the United States, some slaughterhouses kill chickens at a rate of 8,400 per hour.

One of the Humane Slaughter Act's central demands is that animals be rendered unconscious and unable to experience pain before they are killed. This demand is not extended to fowl:

  • Ducks
  • Turkeys
  • Chickens

Chickens are stunned at most slaughterhouses before their throats are cut, and they are put into scalding water for feather removal.

However, some research points to the possibility that stunning birds render them immobile but they can still feel pain. Many believe that the use of stunning, while said to be for humane reasons, is just to make the bird easy to control.


If you eat meat, then at some point, you must kill an animal or pay someone to do it for you. This has been part of the human experience for centuries and centuries. What has not been part of the human experience is the epic scale on which meat is being consumed, especially in the United States. If there is demand, there has to be a supply.

The scale of consumption has led to larger and larger factory farms that breed and raise as many animals as possible. Factory farms get their animals to an eatable weight as quickly as possible and off to the production slaughterhouse. They also use harmful means to get as high productivity out of animals as possible.

All this ultimately results in cruelty to animals. Their whole lives are affected – from the cages they are stored in, the feces they stand-in, or how they are killed. And yet, these procedures are not necessary.

Treating animals better in these farms can result in less stress and infection, both of which ultimately affect the meat that we eat.

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