If there is one term I am most frustrated with hearing people say, it is Factory Farms. Why? You may find this a little crazy coming from a hog farmer, but I really don’t know what a factory farm is. The ironic part of this statement is I live in the Minnesota county that markets the largest numbers of hogs in the state. In fact, we are also ranked nationally in regards to hogs marketed. So how utterly ridiculous does it sound when I say I don’t know what a factory farm is?
WHY THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FACTORY FARM
It’s because my vision of a “factory farm” is not what I see. I envision a factory farm as a place with numerous long, cold, colorless steel buildings whose only goal is to produce as many animals as possible, as fast as possible with the least amount of money and care needed. I think of an uncaring, industrialized operation owned and run by “big money” corporations. An operation that has little to no contact between the animals and people.
And this is the same image companies like Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes and animal rights activist groups like HSUS want you to envision also when you hear the word “factory farm.”
But . . .
Instead of seeing “factory farms,” I see . . .
FARMS. Just farms.
Yes, we have lots of hog farms in rural Minnesota, especially in my county. And who manages and owns these farms? Is it Big Ag? Is it money-hungry corporations?
No. These farms are owned and/or run by my neighbors, my friends, fellow church members, families of my children’s friends and people in my community. People and their families own and/or run the farms, NOT Big Ag. Yes, no question that our farms have changed over the years. The reality is we no longer have “big red barn farms” that we consistently see in the media.
Pigs are housed indoors
Yes, our animals are housed in barns, which may look to some as a factory farm. The bottom line is hogs housed indoors allows us to take better care of them. Our animals are not exposed to the extreme effects of weather such as the brutal cold, hot and humid temperatures, snow, rain, blizzards, sunburns, etc. Nor do we want to fear predators hurting our hogs. Genetics also plays a big part in why they are housed indoors. Today’s hog genetics have a much lower fat content and cannot tolerate the extreme weather conditions.
So Why do people insist on using the word factory farm?
Factory farm is a term used to evoke emotion. It’s a term used by those who oppose modern farming and want farmers to go back “to the good old days” of farming. Many think raising animals outdoors is better. The problem with “the good old days” is they weren’t all that good. People tend to only think about animals enjoying a perfectly warm, beautiful summer days of 70 degrees under a shade tree. We may have 5 days like that in Minnesota. They don’t think about the days immediately following a blizzard that leaves 20 inches of snow with -40 degree temperatures and 30-40 mph winds. Today’s barns eliminate many of the extreme weather conditions and allow more individual care.
Even though our farms look different, our values have not changed. We share the same values as our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We care for our animals daily. It matters and affects us if our animals are sick or injured.
So let’s just take the “factory” out of factory farms and call them what they really are . . .
Farms, just farms.
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Annaliese Wegner says
Great post! Big doesn’t mean bad! I will be sharing this one!
Thank you Annaliese!
There are so many factory farms here in west central MN. if your “farm” is owned by a company and holds 9500 head of dairy cattle on a single site..it IS a factory farm. when a single company owns 20+ hog sites its a factory farm.
Sarah [NurseLovesFarmer.com] says
Yes! Farms are farms! 96-98% of farms in the USA and 98% in Canada are family owned whether they are large enough to be considered a “factory” farm anyway. I guess I just try to see the positive aspect on the term ‘factory’ being that it’s “producing a large quantity”, but perhaps I’m wrong in that. I feel, like you, that it’s a negative connotation and served up with a huge side of fear with all the brands/corporations you mentioned in this post.
Joe Allen says
If you have 98 farms with an average of 30 pigs on them (many might only have 2 or 5) and 2 farms with 10,000 pigs on them, what percentage of pigs live on family farms? The answer is that 15% would live on family farms and 85% would live on factory farms. I don’t know what the real numbers are but when comparing small numbers of large things to large numbers of small things, this is how calculations like this inevitably work out. Let me see if I can find some sort of real numbers….
There are 10 million hogs housed in North Carolina. 70% of them come from just 50 farms. That means they averaged 140,000 heads each. The largest farm had 710,000 hogs. At the time of this data there were 2,300 hog farms in NC. That means the other 3 million hogs lived on 2250 farms.
So that’s 50 farms, 7 million hogs. 2250 farms, 3 million hogs.
Bill Wood says
We are all farmer’s no matter the size of our farms or the number of livestock we raise
Wanda Patsche says
This is something I hear a lot, and I don’t understand the logic, unless you can be certain those larger farms are owned and run outright by a corporation, which is really not as common as you’re lead to believe. Just because a farm or ranch is large doesn’t mean it’s owned by Big Ag, though. I work for a ranch that runs nearly 20,000 head of cattle across several divisions, and it’s owned by one family. We have a friend who farms for one of the largest farms in our state that runs over tens of thousands of acres, and that farm is owned by three brothers.
Brian Feldpausch says
What is the criteria for taking family out of farms? A few hogs is for self consumption, not a family income. According to the University of Illinois, the average net family income per hog is in the range of $0-$4 per head. With an average of $2/hog in 2016, I wonder how many pigs a “Factory” farm activist needs to raise in order to earn their annual salary. Large or small the facts, proven time and again through USDA information, is 97% of farms are family ran and owned. And at what point do activists define the threshold from family to corporate.
Jamie Whittaker says
Great post and it applies across the board to other animals raised by people. We also need to get the word ‘Mill” out of our reference to dog breeders and bird breeders.
Definitely shared this one. Great post, and I couldn’t agree more!
Another terrific blog post! I’ll be sharing this on Twitter and my FB page. I’m not a farmer, although I have many friends and family in farming. I’m a city dweller who is also active in the purebred dog fancy, showing dogs occasionally, co-bred one litter of puppies, but mostly training them for competitions, games, for hunt tests, for therapy work, and for the ultimate teamwork of dog and handler – Search and Recovery for missing people. We in the dog fancy have also been attacked with slang terminology that is meant to evoke disgust and anger, making it very easy for uninformed people to de-humanize us which in turn, makes us easy to attack as being other than a very real, feeling, human being. These labels are usually linked to numbers almost exclusively. Numbers of animals that are beyond what the average person can imagine living in their home like their dog and cat. Numbers of animals become part of the definition, even when they are meaningless for information. So somewhere along the line, people define for themselves what constitutes a factory vs a family farm, and a dog breeder vs a mill of some kind. Language is very powerful, and amplified with strong images. We always remember the horror images, while the ordinary images of life with well cared for animals are just that – ordinary. Not memorable.
One thing I ask people to do; stop using those words and terms, the meaningless ones, the slang. Practice using descriptive terms instead, it’s not hard. Practicing this has made me more thoughtful and understanding when those rare troubled breeders or farmers are discovered by activists and the media and exploited by the label-makers, the chest thumpers, the self righteous brigade of busybodies who use these rare situations to fuel their anger and raise a lot of money. Life is too short for anyone to keep their blood pressure up with ugly images and judgment of others, I think. Most of the activists don’t have a clue about helping someone, they don’t understand that no one in farming or animal activities desires to hurt animals or neglect them – what would be the point, anyway?
Love this! As a cleanliness nut in my own small barn, I greatly admire the awesome new hog barns–steel grates, concrete walls, shiny steel feeders & waterers–amazing! People who think the bucolic old red barns are so pretty have never tried to stay warm in one in the winter, or cool in one in the summer. And they’ve for damned sure never tried to sanitize one after an animal gives birth!!
I have noticed a lot of negative comments to this article, and I think most commenters have ignored what the author was trying to get across. These are farms run by people, not robots. That is the difference between factories and farms. Farmers care about there animals they are raising and try to provide the best and safest environment in which to raise them. These are real people, but it is easier to attack a faceless entity. It is easy to send emotional daggers of hatred towards “factories” in which you claim animals are abused. Its much more difficult when you are attacking a tired mother, a grandfather, young children, or a newly married couple that are giving their entire being to farming. Farming is hard work and people don’t invest that many hours, that much heart and soul into something they don’t love. There is too much heartache and hardships for it to be just a job. When you claim they are abusive, you are attacking them as people. I seen barns and animals compared to prisons. Except these aren’t wardens locking up criminals. These people love their animals.
Conditions have improved over the decades. Food and meat production is safer and more sanitary than it ever was. To the comment that diseases are spread more quickly throughout barns because they are confined, that is ludicrous. Do you think a barnyard was the epitome of sterile environment. Just as humans haven’t developed a resistance to the flu virus by being exposed, pigs haven’t developed a resistance to the porcine virus that is killing thousands of animals. Do you think raising them differently would prevent that?
How about giving the farmers a break? Do you realize how hard they work? Do you realize how many hours they work? Do you realize they still cry when animals are sick and die? Do you realize that if you keep attacking the American farmer, they might just give up? The next set back, might be the one that breaks them down. There is a reason that big Ag keeps getting bigger. Its because people like you that attack farms in general without regard and keep shooting down the little guys instead.
Dr. Gregory Martin says
It is interesting that folks worry about Factory Farming, yet enjoy all the consumer electronics, pharmaceuticals, beauty aids, clothing, automobiles, and books made… in a FACTORY! Why can’t the farmer enjoy the economies of scale, efficiency of labor and shrinkage of carbon footprint that modern Ag gives us. Folks forget that Old McDonald grew his farm bigger to feed the rest of us. I would hate to go hungry just to go back to the farms of yesteryear.
I agree. And I would hate for us to go back to yesteryear too, but many people think that would be best for all. I advocate for people to have choice. We can’t allow a small group to push their agenda that takes away choice. And, unfortunately, that’s what I see happening. Thanks for your comments.
Kent Mowrer says
Thank you for the thoughtful post! I agree!
Susan F. says
Interesting perspective from someone with the “inside scoop” on farming! I especially was impressed by the line: “We care for our animals daily. It matters and affects us if our animals are sick or injured.”
Susan, I do think farmers’ perspectives just are not heard. And when you think about it, who is more credible than someone who is with the animals 24/7? Yes, and it does matter to us if they are sick or injured.
I wish what you describe were
the majority, but I suspect the kind of farms you and your neighbors offer is in the minority. Traveling throughout CA I see the problematic type of places where animals are miserable. Thank you for your comments.
Kymberly, I can’t talk to farms in California because I haven’t seen the type of farms that are located there. But sometimes, just how a farm looks isn’t indicative of the conditions. Our farm, even though it has enclosed barns, people may have a different perception by looking on the outside compared to what they really are like in the inside.
why not give them an option to go out if they want to?
I don’t think anyone is saying your family farm is a factory farm. Instead you are just a pawn in a shifting game called consolidation in which their is less and less farmers per acre. You state that you produce less then 10,000 finished hogs, I would call this a reasonable operation which you can keep an eye on. I think Chipotle and others are against the .002% of operations that produce over 50,000 head per year while accounting for 51.3% of hogs produced. Yes .002% of “farmers” produce 51.3% of finished hogs. These are the farms that can’t keep an eye on their operations and result in gestation crate alleys that resemble solitary confinement cells.
So I respect your defense, I just think your defending the wrong subject.
I am just curious. Do you farm?
Tom J says
What a pointless question. You can’t ask farmers who have lived their entire lives doing this style of farming if they think it would be better if they had to work harder and run smaller operations.
THEY WILL ALWAYS SAY NO, that doesn’t mean they are right, it means they have stake in the game, it means they will say and do almost anything to avoid radical change.
Mac nailed it, and no amount of “you aren’t a farmer so shut up” can change the math.
I grew up on a farm and spent 20 years there and my family did everything they could to go against the grain and plant conventional seed to fight Monsanto’s roundup revolution because they honestly did not want to poison their land for the sake of convenience.
You know what they do now? They plant Roundup ready, blanket spray entire fields attempting to kill weeds that don’t even die anymore, and they act like it’s no big deal. In reality farmers slowly accepted the convenience as the way it has to be and told themselves it didn’t matter. It’s almost like they grew to accept their cage.
Pamela Shank says
You have a beautiful farm and I really enjoyed your post. I admire you and all of the work you do.
Wanda Patsche says
Thank you Pamela! I appreciate the kind words.
Greg G says
Let’s talk some facts.
-in the 1980’s there were 600,000 hog farmers. There are 60,000 now.
-the average consumer would rather sows could do more than stand up and market hogs have more than 8 square feet.
-the Chinese and Russians don’t even want to buy US pork because of beta agonist use.
-most hogs are owned by a few large corporations. They might be raised by families that own the building. It’s reminiscent of the feudal serf era. I believe 70% of the hogs are owned by thirty “farms”. (Yes, I cringe to call those thirty farms.)
-the largest owner of hogs in the US is Smithfield. 700,000 sows? They are a communist Chinese company. Should we stand around and sing kumbyya and call them a family farm also?
-it’s kind of like the ranch alliance people arguing about cage free eggs. There are about 300 million hens in the US. The average egg “farm” has more than a million hens. According to the egg board 195 farms produce 95% of the eggs. Who are we really supporting? The thirty farms including the Chinese that own the hogs? (Brazil controls about 10%). The 200 egg farmers? I don’t think you are going to get consumers and taxpayers to buy in this is the kind of “farms” they want.
If consumers want to know about the product they’re buying, all they have to do is get online. They will be able to find information that will tell them what they want to know, whether they share your opinion that US meat production sucks, or my opinion that that the US produces the safest, most efficient, highest-quality meat in the world. What your numbers do speak to is improved efficiency–family farmers have a lot more people to feed than they used to, and they do it with less resources. If a consumer truly wants mom-and-pop farm-raised meat and eggs, they can find it, they just have to be willing to pay quite a premium.
Farms, just farms. I can go along with that. Keeping in mind, that also means no family farms either, just farms. Is that what you’re proposing?