All About Animals: Secondary Teachers: Lesson Plan 4: Factory Farming: Finding a Solution

How does this fit into the National Curriculum? To participate effectively as members of different groups, pupils should be taught to: make different types of contributions to groups (3a); to take different views into account and modify their own views in the light of what other people might say (3b); help the group to complete its task by varying contributions appropriately, clarifying and synthesising others’ ideas, taking them forward and building on them to reach conclusions, negotiating consensus or agreeing to differ (3e).

Teachers’ Note: This can be a whole class discussion or you can divide the class into groups. Ask different pupils to each read one paragraph of the introduction, read it to them or photocopy it and hand it to them. Ask; how we can balance the welfare of animals with consumers’ desire for cheap meat, milk and eggs? A few pointers have been given to help you steer the class should discussion dry up. Encourage all class members to contribute, to listen to one another and to try to together come up with a solution to the dilemma of cheap meat, milk and eggs versus animal welfare.

Factory farming is a phrase that is used to describe the intensive farming system. It is all about saving on expenditure so farmers can provide cheap meat, milk and eggs. This means that animals and birds are kept inside sheds (often windowless and dark), with little room to move, no fresh air and nothing to do for their entire lives. Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and pigs are most intensively farmed in Britain. All these animals are sentient beings with needs, wants and personalities.

Chickens are inquisitive, intelligent animals who, according to animal behaviourist Dr Chris Evans of Australia’s Macquarie University, are good at solving problems. He explains that chickens are able to understand that recently hidden objects still exist, a concept that small children are unable to master. Discussing chickens’ capabilities, he says, ‘As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys’.

In nature, chickens form friendships and social hierarchies, recognise one another and develop a pecking order, love and care for their young and enjoy dust-bathing, making nests and roosting in trees. Chickens raised for meat and eggs are unable to engage in any of these activities.

More than 800 million chickens are raised and killed for meat each year in the United Kingdom. The industry refers to these chickens as ‘broilers’ and raises them in huge, ammonia-filled, windowless sheds where artificial lighting is manipulated to make birds eat as often as possible.

To keep up with demand and reduce production costs, genetic selection and a steady dose of growth-promoting drugs are used to ensure large, fast-growing birds. Today, most chicks take only six weeks to reach their slaughter weight, half the time they took in the 1970s. Skeletal problems, especially in the legs, are common among these birds, and many die from heart attacks as their body outgrows their heart’s ability to cope.

A study published in the Veterinary Record revealed that factory-farmed chickens actively sought pain relief: When given a choice of two feeds, lame birds consumed more of the feed that contained a pain-relieving drug than the feed that did not.

About 36 million hens are raised for eggs in the UK, and most spend their lives in battery cages, stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses. As allowed by government regulations, each laying hen lives in a space about the size of an A4 sheet of paper – with not even enough room to turn around or spread one wing. Millions of day-old male chicks are killed (usually in a high-speed grinder called a ‘macerator’) every year because they are worthless to the egg industry. Traditional battery cages are being phased out in Europe in favour of enriched cages, which are slightly bigger cages with perches and nesting boxes.

To prevent stress-induced behaviours caused by overcrowding, such as pecking cage-mates to death, hens are kept in semi-darkness, and the ends of their beaks are cut off with a hot blade—no painkillers are administered during this painful process. The wire mesh of the cages rubs off their feathers, chafes their skin and causes their feet to become crippled. A study conducted by the University of Bristol found that ‘the number of freshly broken bones found in live birds prior to slaughter and the number of old healed breaks found at slaughter are unacceptably high’.

And on to pigs … Pigs are very clean animals who take to mud primarily to cool off and to evade flies. They are generally more intelligent than dogs and just as friendly and gregarious. There are nearly 600,000 breeding sows in the UK. Less than 30 per cent live outdoors. Barren sow stalls, so small that the sow cannot even turn around, are banned in the UK but remain legal in the EU. Both in the UK and Europe, most sows give birth in farrowing crates. These are stalls with concrete or slatted floors surrounded by metal bars. The crate is just inches wider than the sow’s own body, and a metal contraption gives piglets just enough room to reach their mother’s teats. Her piglets are taken away at just three weeks, and the cycle of rape, pregnancy, birth and separation begins again.

Piglets, whether born to be free-range or intensively farmed, are kept in barren pens with nothing to occupy their barren minds. Not surprisingly, the piglets turn to bullying each other, and the weaker ones often have to be destroyed. In an attempt to prevent this, the ends of the babies’ teeth are clipped off with wire cutters and their tails chopped off, all without anaesthetic. They can be slaughtered anytime from 4 to 8 months, far short of their natural lifespan of a decade or more.

Pointers for discussion:

  • What is the difference between broiler chickens and egg-laying chickens in the battery farming system?
  • Name some of the conditions that can affect a chicken’s health inside a factory farm.
  • How do we know that chickens are intelligent?
  • How do we know that chickens feel pain?
  • Why are male chicks in the egg industry killed at one day old?
  • What measures do farmers take to try and prevent birds and pigs from damaging one another?
  • Do you agree with these methods?
  • If pigs are as intelligent and gregarious as dogs should we revise how we treat pigs on farms?
  • Does it matter that we do not provide animals with space to move, fresh air and ways to fulfill their needs (such as dust-bathing for chickens and toys for piglets)?
  • How can we balance the needs of animals with consumers’ desires for cheap meat, milk and eggs? Try and find a solution to this problem by coming up with a number of measures to balance the equation. Try to get the whole class to agree on a set of measures that would ease the burden on animals.