Factory Farming

From farm to fridge

The horrors that animals endure on today’s factory farms - large, filthy warehouses that treat living creatures as mere objects – is truly beyond our worst nightmare. Chickens, pigs, cows and other farmed animals are considered nothing more than units of production; their only purpose to increase the company’s bottom line.

Chickens

Like the animals we cherish as our companions, chickens are curious and intelligent. In fact, they possess some cognitive abilities more advanced than those of dogs and cats. They are known to try to imitate the sounds of humans and other animals around them. Baby chicks are very playful, and love human attention and praise. They can be taught to do many tricks, such as 'play dead'. Chickens have elaborate courtship rituals and close family ties. A mother hen begins bonding with her chicks before they even hatch by softly clucking to her unborn, who chirp back to her from inside their shells. Chickens will fight foxes and eagles to protect their family members, and mourn the loss of a loved one.

Yet chickens, the most consumed animal in Singapore, are also arguably the most abused animal in the world. Crammed by the thousands into filthy windowless sheds, they are forced to suffocate in their own urine and feces. They are bred to grow so large they become crippled under their own weight. They fall sick very often due to their stressed immunity systems, even with all the vaccinations and antibiotics put in their food. This allows drug-resistant viruses to evolve quickly and spread, leading to frequent outbreaks of lethal strands of bird flu, such as the H5N1 virus.

Egg-laying hens have it even worse. They are packed, four to six into tiny cages the size of a folded newspaper. They are never allowed to move or spread their wings their entire life, and suffer feather loss and skin damage due to constant rubbing against the cage and their cage-mates. In order to prevent them from injuring and killing each other, a disorder brought about by their horrid living conditions, female chicks have their beak tips cut off using hot blades without any anaesthetic. Male chicks, of no value to the egg industry and not suited for rearing, are either ground up alive or tossed into bags to suffocate within hours of being hatched.

The natural lifespan of a chicken is 7 years, but in factory farm production, egg-laying hens are killed at just 1½ years of age, broiler chickens at 42 days of age or less, and male chicks of egg-laying hens at 1 day.

Pigs

Pigs are the smartest domestic animal in the world, with intelligence beyond that of a 3 year-old human child. They rank #4 in animal intelligence, behind only chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants. Like dogs, pigs love to play, and explore their surroundings with their powerful sense of smell. They are affectionate animals who form close bonds with each other and other species, including humans. They can pick up tricks even faster than dogs can.

Contrary to popular belief, pigs are very particular about cleanliness. They keep their toilets far from their living and eating areas. Although they enjoy lying in the sun, they need to cover themselves in mud to protect their sensitive skin. In their natural setting, mother pigs sing to their piglets while they are nursing.

Yet pigs, the second most consumed farmed animal in Singapore, must spend their entire lives in dark warehouses, crammed into fetid pens full of their urine and feces. Although they are social animals, the constant stress prevents them from forming any meaningful relationships. To prevent them from biting each other’s tails and injuring each other - a social disorder brought about by their living conditions - piglets have their tails cut off and teeth snipped off with pliers, and male piglets are castrated, all without anaesthetic. Although pigs are supposed to be killed ‘painlessly’ during slaughter, careless stunning practices mean that many pigs are still conscious when they are dumped into boiling water to remove their hair and soften their skin.

Mother pigs (sows) spend their lives in metal gestation crates barely bigger than their bodies. Unable to move or lie down comfortably, this results in crippling leg disorders. Like chickens, pigs fall sick very often, and would die in a matter of months if not for the vaccinations and antibiotics put in their food. Unfortunately, this allows otherwise harmless viruses to quickly evolve and gain drug resistance, leading to outbreaks of deadly swine flu, such as that of the H1N1 virus.

The natural lifespan of a pig is 15 years, but in factory farm production, pigs are killed after 5-6 months.

Cows

Cows are affectionate, sensitive, and full of personality. Cows like to live in large herds, and can recognise more than 100 members of their herd. They 'moo' and use different body positions and facial gestures to communicate with each other. They are deeply loyal to their families, but can hold grudges against other cows that treat them badly for a surprisingly long time.

They are smart and curious animals who enjoy intellectual challenges, and sometimes even jump with excitement upon solving a problem. The mother-calf bond is very strong. A cow mother will frantically bellow and search for her baby for days and even weeks after the calf is taken away.

Yet most cows raised for beef live their short lives on barren, muddy feedlots containing up to 40,000 cows. They endure excruciating forms of torture. To mark cows, ranchers press hot fire irons into their flesh. Their horns are cut or burned off, and male calves are castrated, all without anaesthetic. They need to be restrained during these procedures as their bodies shake uncontrollably from the pain. While cows are supposed to be stunned by electricity or a bolt gun to render them unconscious before slaughter, improper stunning practices mean that many cows remain conscious while their throats are slit and they are hung upside down to allow the blood to drain. Some are even skinned alive.

Like human mothers, cows do not produce milk unless they are lactating. In order to maximise profits, dairy cows are forced through more pregnancy cycles that their bodies can naturally handle. Each time one pregnancy cycle ends, they are immediately impregnated via artificial insemination to begin another. Their babies are taken from them when they are less than 1 day old. Once a cow’s body is ‘spent’ after 5-6 years (her natural lifespan is 20), the industry no longer has any use for her, and sends her for slaughter to be turned into low-grade hamburger meat.

When a dairy cow gives birth to a male calf, he is taken away and chained in a dark, tiny crate. Terrified and alone hours after being brought into this world, he will be killed after just 1-3 months of life and sold as veal.

It is possible to push the blame to the animal industries and demand that they treat animals better, but as long as we want affordable meat at the amounts we currently do, any consideration for the suffering of these animals is thrown out of the equation. The only solution is to reduce our consumption of meat, or to cut out meat altogether.

For a more in depth explanation on animal intelligence and treatment (including that of animals not mentioned in this article), check out PETA's articles on factory farming.