All About Animals: The Issues (Ages 11-14): Factory Farming

Did you know that pigs are as clever as dogs? They are great mothers, too. In the wild, a sow will walk miles to find straw and twigs to build a nest for her babies. Chickens are smart, too. They can learn to use switches and levers to adjust the temperature in a room and some have even learned to open doors to feeding areas to get something to eat. Scientists have distinguished 24 different sounds that the birds use to communicate.

Just like us, chickens have feelings. During a storm, a rooster named Notorious Boy who lived at a sanctuary held his wing over his hen friend, Mary, shielding her from the rain until someone remembered to let them inside. What a gentleman!

Many animals who will be killed for food for people in this country, such as pigs, chickens and turkeys, don’t live outdoors. In fact, they have never even seen the sun, felt grass underneath their feet or played with their friends. They don’t even get a chance to make friends. They live in pens and cages in huge buildings on factory farms. There are no windows in the sheds, so animals raised there have never seen a cloud, a tree or a flower. All they know about the world is how the steel bars of their cages taste, how it feels to lay or stand on concrete floors and wire cages, and how it feels to be locked in a cage so small that they can hardly move. Factory farms are also dirty and crowded, which makes it easy for diseases to spread.

On factory farms, chickens who are raised for their eggs are kept in cages called “battery cages”, which hold as many as five birds each and are not large enough to allow the animals to stretch their wings or lie down. After spending their lives standing on the wire floors of these cages, many birds develop painful foot problems. They never see sunshine, feel grass under their feet or breathe fresh air. Can you imagine living like that? They are not even 2 years old when they are killed, but in nature, they could live for up to 20 years. After they are killed, their bodies are turned into chicken soup and baby food. Because battery cages are so cruel, they will be made illegal in Britain in 2012.

Chickens who are raised so that their flesh can be eaten by people are bred to grow very quickly. In just six weeks, the birds, who are really still babies, have adult bodies and are slaughtered. During their short lives, they are forced to live inside dark, dirty sheds with thousands of other birds, where they suffer from ammonia burns, heart attacks, broken bones and many diseases before being slaughtered. Turkeys, ducks and geese live the same way on factory farms.

Pigs are considered to be just as intelligent as dogs, but it would be illegal to treat dogs the way pigs are treated on factory farms. Confined in units, sows are separated from their babies by a metal contraption, which allows them to suckle their young but not to nuzzle or comfort them. Farmers claim this arrangement prevents sows from rolling over and crushing her piglets but under natural conditions with plenty of room to move about, this does not happen.

When the piglets are just four weeks old, they are taken away from their mothers. Kept in unnatural conditions, these naturally playful and gentle animals are cramped, frustrated and bored, and the piglets begin fighting with each other. To prevent the piglets from biting each other’s tails, farmers cut off the piglets’ tails and/or remove their teeth with pliers, often without pain relief. The pigs are killed when they are just six months old.


Diseases and illnesses spread quickly in the crowded, dirty conditions of factory farms. “Mad cow” disease, foot-and-mouth disease and bacteria such as salmonella have all affected animals and people in the UK.

So why does factory farming exist? It is easier and cheaper for farmers to keep animals in this way than it is to let them roam outdoors. Because people want to buy cheap meat, milk and eggs, farmers must produce these items cheaply. But who really pays the price?

You want more info? This is where to go:

Vegetarian Society
National Farmers Union

Talk About: Topics to Chat About!
1. How would you feel if dogs lived on factory farms? Or cats? Or people? Is there a difference? Why or why not?
2. Do you think it is right to keep animals on factory farms so we can have cheap meat, milk and eggs?