Skip to main content
Full Menu

Animals Raised on Farms

  • TITLE: ANIMALS RAISED ON FARMS
  • LEVEL: GRADE 8 - 10
  • DURATION: SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS
  • DEVELOPED BY: JOYCE BLOOM, TEACHER, PS 95 BRONX AND SANDY REED, CO-CHAIR, SIERRA CLUB VEGETARIAN COMMITTEE

SCIENCE OBJECTIVE #2:

Encourage more humane treatment of animals.

UNIT OVERVIEW:

Students will learn about the ways in which "food animals" are raised on "intensive" versus "free-range" farms while conducting research for this unit. They will learn about the physical and behavioral needs of farm animals. They will learn about health and ethical considerations as well as differences in philosophies among humans regarding consumption of animals raised on farms.

BACKGROUND:

The American farm has changed dramatically in the last thirty years. Many small farms have been replaced by large animal-production facilities. Some animals raised on farms may still have a field or barn to walk around in and others of their own species to socialize with. However, the great majority of animals raised for human consumption in industrial countries -- nearly five billion yearly in the United States alone -- are kept indoors in intensive confinement their entire lives. Calves raised for veal, for example, may be raised in narrow crates where they cannot turn around. They may be kept in darkness for up to 22 hours a day. On these intensive farms, they cannot play with other calves or stay with heir mothers.

Modern animal-production facilities are designed to be efficient and competitive. Animals are raised in a "cost-effective" fashion which many deny them their basic needs, i.e. to turn around, to exercise, to drink their mother's milk and to socialize with others of their own species.

Agribusinessmen favor "intensive" or "factory" farming because it reduces two major costs -- land and labor. Animals are concentrated into small areas so less land is needed. Many daily chores are automated so labor is reduced. Trade magazines tell the agribusinessmen how to extract more meat production for their dollars from the animals. The more animals raised and sold, the more money made. This is enhanced through the use of antibiotics and growth hormones which enable the animal to be larger and grow at a faster rate.

Consumers are protected from information about the ways in which farm animals-- dairy cows, pigs, beef cattle, sheep, chickens and turkeys-- are raised on factory farms. For example, pigs love to root in the ground for acorns. They are very sensitive to temperature changes as they have no sweat glands. Pigs roll in the dust or mud in an effort to stay cool in hot weather. However, factory-farmed pigs never have the freedom to dig in the earth or roll in the mud. "Almost ninety percent of the roughly 80 million pigs slaughtered annually in the United States spend most of their lives in close confinement, in overcrowded pens, in steel-barred crates or in small, multiple stacked crates known as battery cages" (Coats, Old MacDonald's Factory Farm, p. 31).

Pigs are not kept in natural families on intensive farms, but rather confines by sex and age. Under stress, the pigs bite each others' tails and ears. Factory farmers "solve" aggressive behavior problems caused by these conditions by cutting off the piglets tails, clipping teeth, cutting off males' testicles and cutting identification notches into the pigs' ears. Lights may be dimmed or turned off, except when pigs are fed, to reduce excited behavior. Factory-farmed pigs may never see daylight, except when they are on their way to auction or slaughter.

Even people who see cows, pigs and chickens only as food for humans may realize that these animals can feel pleasure and pain and deserve more compassionate treatment than they are currently receiving. For humans offended by intensive farming treatment of "food animals," there are options.

One possibility is to eat only animals that have been raised on "free-range" farms. Free-range farms allow the animals more freedom of movement than the small restrictive cages and crates which confine them on intensive or "factory farms." However, one should realize that most modern free-range farms are far from ideal. A typical free-range hen, for example, does not spend her day roaming about outside. She is confined in a crowded shed with thousands of other debeaked hens. While these hens do usually have nest boxes -- an improvement over factory farms conditions -- they eventually endure the same brutal slaughter of their battery-caged sisters.

Another option for individuals offended by the way "food animals" are raised is to reduce the amount of meat in your diet or eliminate it completely. There are numerous videos which exist for the purpose of educating consumers as to the ethical, health and environmental consequences of their food choices.

"FACTORY" OR "INTENSIVE" FARMING AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Nationwide, 130 times more animal waste is produced than human waste (Farm Sanctuary News, Spring 1998). Due to lack of sufficient land in which to handle the waste produced by America's livestock animals, the US Department of Agriculture has stated that dealing with animal waste has become a serious problem. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified dozens of rivers and streams as impaired from the waste runoff from agriculture. The largest contributor to pollution is animal-waste from factory farms to feedlots, which produce almost nine billion animals for food each year. It has been calculated that human waste produces 25,000 pounds per second while farm animals produce 250,000 pounds of waste per second.

Meat production uses a lot of resources, but produces little. On average, it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of feedlot beef, 6 pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork, 3 pounds of grain to produce one pound of chicken and 5.3 pounds of fish meal to produce one pound of farmed fish (From 101 Reasons I'm A Vegetarian, 4th Edition, 1998).

CONFINED ANIMAL FEEDING OPERATIONS

The Sierra Club, the nation's largest environmental organization, is actively opposed to conditions on confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). CAFOs are another term for "factory" or "intensive" farms. CAFOs are located in many states in the United States. Here is a sample of some of the impacts of CAFOs as outlined in a Sierra Club brochure -- Is Piglet Poisoning the Well?

  • A typical mega-hog operation consumes more than 200,000 gallons of water per day--totaling 73 million gallons annually for only one operation.
  • In Missouri, 19 percent of family farmers were forced out of business because a few CAFOs moved into their state.
  • In Central Valley, California there are 1,600 dairies which generate more waste than the entire population of Texas.
  • The total amount of manure produced each year by livestock is 2.7 trillion pounds.
  • In the past 15 years, the number of hog farms has dropped from 600,000 to 157,000 but the number of hogs remains the same.

This is because of the rise in CAFOs.

The Sierra Club has begun a national campaign to influence the management of hog and chicken farms, dairy operations, and cattle ranches. The Sierra Club is promoting the following provisions:

  • National standards to protect the public from these huge feeding operations.
  • New and existing CAFOs should be required to seek a permit which spells out operation standards.
  • CAFOs need to treat the massive volumes of animal manure as industrial waste, new waste-handling technologies must be adopted.
  • A community should have the right to refuse large-scale livestock operations.
  • Air and watering monitoring should be considered. Frequent inspection of CAFOs is needed.
  • People making the profits from CAFOs should be responsible for paying for the environmental damage to a locality.
  • People operating CAFOs must be trained in proper livestock and waste management.

We suggest that you visit the Sierra Club website at www.sierra.org. They have a segment entitled CAFOs Stink!

EFFECT OF EATING ANIMALS ON HUMAN HEALTH

Animal foods clog human arteries with cholesterol, strain kidneys with excess protein and burden the heart with saturated fat.

Meat-based diets have higher incidences of colon cancer than plant-based diets. Plant foods contain no cholesterol. Grains, fruits and vegetables have high amounts of fiber and are healthy for the heart and digestive system.

An English study which compared the diets of 6,115 vegetarians and 5,015 meat eaters for 12 years found that the meatless diet yielded a 40 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. Vegetarians outlive meat eaters by 3 to 6 years (Study conducted by William Castelli, M.D., director of the Framingham Heart Study as stated in "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian).

While eating 20 grams of protein a day is recommended by John Dougall, MD, the average American takes in a little more than 100 grams daily. Eating excess amounts of proteins can damage human health. "Observations of various populations worldwide show that the higher the protein intake, the more common is osteoporosis.... When our diet contains more protein than we need, the excess is broken down in the liver and excreted through the kidneys as urea. Urea has a diuretic action, which causes the kidneys to work harder to excrete more water. Along with the water, minerals are lost in the urine and one of the most important minerals lost in this manner is calcium." (McDougall, The McDougall Plan, pages 100 - 102)

Fish may be considered more healthy than beef, but it is still high in fat, high calorie and low in fiber. Fish is concentrated protein so it raises the risk of osteoporosis and kidney problems. Fish may also be filled with dangerous toxins absorbed from polluted environments. In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency issued more than 1,000 warnings against eating fish from chemically contaminated waters.

Iron is absorbed more easily in animal foods than plant foods. Modern research has shown that excess iron can contribute to an increased risk of cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and infertility.

Bovine growth hormone is now injected into the cow to increase her production of milk. After about four years, the cows ability to produce milk will diminish and the cow will be slaughtered for hamburger meat. There is controversy concerning the safety of drinking milk containing bovine growth hormone.

PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES:

  1. To investigate the specific needs of selected farm animals in the areas of housing, veterinary considerations, exercise, nutrition and socialization with members of their own species.
  2. To create a checklist by which the satisfaction of a standard humane treatment can be assessed.
  3. To investigate the differences between free-range versus intensive farming in meeting physical and behavioral needs of animals.
  4. To determine the effects of eating animals on human health.
  5. To determine the effects of raising animals on intensive farms to human health, to environmental health.

ACTIVITIES:

Select one farm animal and follow the procedure outlined :

  1. Research the specific needs of animals as regards housing, exercise, veterinary considerations, nutrition and socialization. Check books in local libraries and contact local veterinarians. Also check with your State Department of Agriculture.

    In New York State, the address is:

    State Department of Agriculture
    1 Winners Circle
    Albany, New York 12235

    Contact the National Meat Board, the American Dairy Council, the local university cooperative extension (in New York City, Cornell Cooperative Extension 212-340-2900), Farm Sanctuary, the Farm Animal Reform Movement (FARM) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for further information and a variety of points of view.

  2. List recommended standards by which to judge the humane treatment and quality of life of the selected animal. Be certain to Include the physical and behavioral needs of the animal.
  3. Create checklist by which to assess the animal-production facility's adherence to these standards for rearing the selected animal.
  4. Visit one or more of the following organizations to observe the humane treatment of animals (or lack of it) and the quality of life of the selected animal. Document with notes and photographs and/or sketches whenever possible:
    • factory farm
    • free-range farm
    • petting-zoo farm
    • rescue organization (e.g. Farm Sanctuary)
  5. Utilize the checklist to evaluate these situations.
  6. Assess the situations, draw conclusions and make judgments on the conditions of the animal.
  7. Display, on a poster board, the checklist of standards with conclusions, suggestions for improvements and photographs or sketches.
  8. View videos about animals raised on farms: e.g. The Other Side of the Fence available from the ASPCA
  9. View videos about the effects of eating meat on human health e.g. Diet For A New America
  10. Gather information on how raising animals on intensive farms (and free-range farms) affects human and environmental health

POSSIBLE SCIENCE FAIR PROJECTS:

  1. Document the physical and behavioral needs of animals raised on farms. Show differences in the ways these needs are addressed on free-range versus intensive farms. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of farm?
  2. Describe the life of one animal at Farm Sanctuary. What are the circumstances surrounding the animal's life that led to his/her placement at Farm Sanctuary? Where would the animal have been now if Farm Sanctuary had not taken him/her in?
  3. Research and describe the differences in philosophy, knowledge attitudes and behaviors of people who eat animals and those who do not? What are the health and ethical considerations?

RESOURCE ORGANIZATIONS:

EarthSave
600 Distillery Commons
Suite 200
Louisville, KY 40206-192
phone: (502) 589-7676
web site: http://www.earthsave.org

Farm Animal Reform Movement
10101 Ashburton Lane
Bethesda, MD 20817
phone: 301-530-1737
web site: http://www.farmusa.org

Farm Sanctuary
PO Box 150
Watkins Glen, NY 14891
phone: 301-654-9026
web site: http://www.farmsanctuary.org

Food Animals Concerns Trust (FACT)
PO Box 14599
Chicago, IL 60614 Humane Farming Association
550 California Street, Suite 6
San Francisco, CA 94109

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
501 Front Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
website: http://www.peta-online.org

Sierra Club
85 Second Street
Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441
phone: 415-977-5500
fax: 415-977-5799
website: http://www.sierraclub.org

United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150
Machipongo, Virginia 23405-0150 USA
Phone/Fax: (757) 678-7875
e-mail: franklin@smart.net
website: http://www.envirolink.org/upc

Other animal rights, animal-welfare, vegetarian, environmental and anti-animal-rights sites can be found at website: http://www.envirolink.org