Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media
Locking hens in cages

What is factory farming?

Every year in Australia, millions of chickens and pigs are kept hidden away in factory farms. These animals can think, feel, and suffer – yet they are denied everything that makes life worth living.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated February 22, 2024

Did you know that ‘farmed’ animals — like pigs, hens and chickens — aren’t shielded from cruelty by the same basic laws that protect the cats and dogs many of us share our homes, lives and hearts with?

When given the chance, these animals will befriend us, just like companion animals do. They have the capacity to show affection, to experience joy — but most importantly, they can also suffer. And suffer they do, by the millions, in barren factory farms where they’re valued only in terms of what their bodies can produce, rather than as living, feeling individuals.

The demand for animal products has, over a relatively short period of time, led to the industrialisation of animal ‘production’ in factory farms. As profit-driven animal industries have worked to supply more meat, milk and eggs at lower costs, an animal welfare disaster of catastrophic proportions has been created. But knowledge is power; so read on to learn more and see how you can help spare animals from cruel factory farms.

See what factory farming means for:

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Battery Hen in cage

This is what factory farming means for hens

Hens trapped in the cage egg industry are valued only in terms of how many eggs they can produce, and as a result, they’re denied a life worth living. They spend every moment of their short, painful lives in battery cages so small they can’t even spread their wings. Their fragile bodies become so worn out from a complete lack of exercise, osteoporosis, and the cycle of constant egg-laying that hens are considered ‘spent’ and sent to slaughter at barely a year and a half old.

When given the chance to live natural lives, hens can live up to twelve years old. They will dustbathe, nest, and even start communicating with their chicks while they’re still in the egg. But in the egg industry, a hen never gets to raise her chicks. 

Female chicks are hatched to replace ‘spent’ layer hens. They have the tip of their sensitive beaks cut or burnt off without pain relief. Naturally, their beaks would be used to explore their surroundings, to forage, and to nest. But crammed into small, barren cages, confined hens can peck at one another, understandably frustrated by being unable to move freely or seek privacy to nest and rest. Enrichment and more room to live could reduce this stress-induced pecking, but instead, ‘beak trimming’ is the industry’s ‘solution’ for this behaviour.

Male chicks are gassed or tossed alive into machines to be ground up, simply because they will never lay eggs and therefore aren’t considered ‘profitable’. The killing of chicks on their first day of life happens in all egg systemsincluding free range and organic.

Although Australian Agriculture Ministers have finally endorsed a legal ban on battery cages (also referred to as ‘conventional cages’), they have sentenced hens to at least another decade of suffering in them.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A sad and scared looking pig looking towards camera

This is what factory farming means for pigs

In factory farms, mother pigs are caged in ‘farrowing crates’ barely larger than their bodies. For weeks at a time, they have barely enough room to stand up and can’t even turn around. They are forced to eat, sleep, toilet, and even give birth, in the same spot on hard concrete floors.

Pigs are naturally attentive, nurturing mothers, and when given the opportunity, they build a snug, warm nest for their piglets. But most mother pigs in Australia are confined in barren crates, and denied this natural nesting behaviour, they’ve been known to suffer from depression.

As early as just three short weeks after giving birth to their babies, their piglets are taken away, several weeks before they would naturally wean. The piglets have their teeth and tails cut off, right through the bone. Cutting off body parts is the industry’s ‘solution’ to behaviours that are associated with their confinement, rather than giving the animals more space and enrichment. Male piglets can be castrated at the same time. Perhaps most shocking of all is that all of these ‘surgical procedures’ are inflicted on these defenceless animals without pain relief.

The babies who aren’t raised for breeding could have a natural lifespan of 12-15 years or longer, but in the food system, they are sent to slaughter when they are just 5 or 6 months old. Bred only to be killed shortly after, they’ll spend their final moments fighting to breathe as they are lowered into gas chambers – the routine way pigs are stunned in Australian slaughterhouses.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Starving 'parent'

This is what factory farming means for chickens used for their meat

The modern breeds of chicken who are bred and raised for their ‘meat’ are the result of an intensive selective breeding process designed to make them grow extremely fast. So fast, in fact, that chicks grow up so quickly they reach ‘slaughter weight’ when they’re only 5-8 weeks old — still chirping like the babies they are. These chickens, known as ‘broiler chickens’, are effectively born into a genetic prison where their bodies are their cage.

This unnatural growing speed puts terrible pressure on their joints and hearts, and, within weeks of hatching, many of these young chickens will be so weighed down by their own bodies that they’re unable to lift themselves off the filthy factory farm floor. With their fragile bodies unable to lift them out of the piled-up excrement, some may suffer from breast blisters, hock burn, and chronic dermatitis. Others develop crippling lameness so severe they can’t even move to reach food or water, and will die of starvation or dehydration.

Over 26 million young chickens suffer and die in farm sheds every single year because their unnatural bodies simply can’t cope – their painful deaths are ‘written off’ by the factory farming industry as a part of doing business.

The farming of chickens for their meat has become one of the biggest animal welfare issues in Australia and the world today. Sadly, even broiler chickens bred into free range systems are often still the same fast-growing breed. They may be provided more space and more enrichment than those trapped in factory farms, but ultimately with their unnaturally large bodies, they generally suffer from all the associated ailments and still spend most of their lives indoors.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A massive land clearing in the forest

This is how factory farming affects us and the environment

Factory farms are horrible places for animals, and they’re not good news for people, wildlife, and our shared planet either.

With the crowded and unhygienic environments of factory farms being the perfect breeding conditions for disease, factory farms often dose entire sheds of animals with antibiotics added to their food and water — whether they are sick or not. Antibiotic resistance poses a very real threat to humanity, and a recent investigation revealed the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chicken and pig meat sold in Australian supermarkets.

The scale of factory farms also impacts the land they are on, as waste generated by the thousands of animals seeps into the surrounding earth and waterways and contaminates the air. These animals – bred only to be killed for food – also need food. Each year in Australia, approximately 635 million chickens and 5 million pigs are slaughtered, and every single one of these animals requires feed from crops (as well as the sheep and cattle who need land to graze on and crops for additional feed and when they’re in feedlots). Animals eat more food than they produce ‘for humans’.

Research suggests that if everyone shifted to a plant-based diet we could reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%, and still feed the existing human population. Such a shift would help slow human-caused global warming by reducing the emissions generated by the animal agriculture sector and could also enable cleared land to be re-forested, helping wildlife reclaim habitats they desperately need.

How is this legal?

When confronted with images of the immense suffering experienced by animals hidden away in factory farms, the natural response from compassionate people is: “How is this legal?”

In collaboration with animal farming industries, governments created Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines (which might be more accurately called ‘Codes of Cruelty‘). These codes of cruelty have ‘re-categorised’ thinking, feeling beings as mere units of production.

These codes make it legal for sensitive and social animals to be severely confined in sheds and cages, denied access to fresh air and sunshine, and even permit parts of their bodies – like sensitive beaks, teeth and tails – to be cut off without pain relief.

Many of Australia’s Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines were written nearly four decades ago, and reviews are few and far between. These standards are archaic and permit cruelty to animals that most people would not accept at all, let alone as routine ‘standard practice’.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Most of us are taught to think that 'farmed' animals are all the same — however, the reality is that every animal is a unique individual with their own personality. With the high walls of factory farms hiding these animals from the view of caring consumers, the daily cruelties inflicted upon them are kept secret.

Join the evolution of kindness and change their world

Many people are surprised to learn that, as well as pigs and chickens, there are other animals who are sadly also factory-farmed – from fish to ducks (and even dogs). For over 40 years, Animals Australia has sought to create change for these animals.

Governments, however, continue to prioritise industry interests and place profit and efficiency over the animal suffering inherent to these systems. The good news is we don’t have to wait decades for government and industry reviews to happen, or for the laws and regulations to catch up and better align with our values. We all have the power to take a stand against factory farming cruelty, starting now

By using your power as a consumer and making the kindest choice, you can bring these animals back into our circle of compassion. Every time you fill your plate with more plants, you’ll not only spare farmed animals from the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses, but also help wildlife, people and the planet we share too.  Get your free guide today, and Join the Evolution for a kinder world for all!