Right now, every donation is matched until 31st December or until we reach our goal of £155,000. Don't miss out! DONATE NOW

Factory Farming: Everything You Need to Know

Factory farming is ‘a method of breeding and raising animals destined for human consumption with the aim of maximising production while minimising costs’. But what does that mean in practice? In this article, you’ll find out everything you need to know about factory farming.

Factory farming was created based on the assumption that – as the name suggests – the factory concept could be applied to animal farming. 

This approach comes at the expense of animals, who are treated as commodities. They are unable to carry out many of their natural behaviours when crammed into tiny pens or cages and forced into a life of misery. 

The animals in the UK who are currently factory-farmed include cows, pigs, chickens, hens and fish. 

Factory Farming in the UK: Living Conditions

The vast majority of farmed animals in the UK are factory farmed. There are almost 300,000 farms in the UK. Among them, over one thousand are ‘megafarms’ – US-style farms that house more than 124,000 chickens bred for their meat, over 80,000 hens used for their eggs, over 2,500 pigs, over 700 cows used for their milk or over 1,000 cows bred for their meat. 

Over 1.1 billion land animals are slaughtered in the UK. This number does not include farmed and wild aquatic animals. If they were, the number of animals killed would increase to somewhere in the region of 6.4 billion, according to conservative estimates

Despite this huge number, most of these animals are nowhere to be seen. They are kept indoors, inside farms with no windows and no indication as to what goes on inside their walls.

Moy Park Double Decker Chicken Farm
A chicken farm

Factory Farmed Chickens & Hens

Chickens Reared For Their Meat

Chickens are the most abused land animal on the planet. In the UK, more than one billion chickens are killed every year for their flesh. 

They are bred to grow so big and so fast that their legs and organs can’t keep up, causing them to suffer from heart attacks, organ failure and debilitating leg deformities. Those that survive this miserable existence are typically slaughtered at just 35 days old. 

Chickens are killed using electrical waterbaths or gas. For an electrical waterbath stunning, chickens are hung upside down by their legs onto a moving conveyor, which carries them to a ‘waterbath’, where their heads swing into the electrified water. This process is extremely stressful and painful for chickens and is used to either stun or stun and kill them. Their throats are then slit after they exit the water bath. 

Chickens are intelligent beings capable of feeling fear and pain. Like other animals, including humans, they want to live. This desire for life is the reason why many birds lift their heads during the stunning process to avoid the electrified water and are therefore slaughtered while still conscious. 

To date, we have investigated 19 UK chicken farms linked to major supermarkets – including Tesco and Asda – and major fast food chains, like Nando’s and McDonald’s. Our investigators have documented workers deliberately kicking and stepping on birds, crushing the necks of those deemed too weak or too small to be profitable, and leaving some to deliberately dehydrate.

Hens Used For Their Eggs

Every year in the UK, 36 million hens are exploited for their eggs. 

Hens are selectively bred to produce the maximum number of eggs. They often spend up to two years packed in cages with sixty other birds. 

The cages are so small and crowded that hens cannot even spread their wings or exhibit other natural behaviours. On average, each hen has less usable living space than a standard piece of A4 paper. Because of the living conditions, hens often die in their cages and are left to rot in the same space alongside living birds.

But that’s not all they have to endure. 

Because of the stressful living conditions, hens often become aggressive toward each other. But instead of allowing them more space, the industry solves the problem by cutting their beaks. A process called ‘break conditioning’ in an attempt to make it sounds less horrible than it is. 

The egg industry is also responsible for the killing of 20 million male chicks per year. In fact, as male chicks are unable to produce eggs, they are deemed useless by the industry and discarded. 

Animal Equality has investigated caged-egg farms in the UK which use ‘enriched’ cages. In 2020, Animal Equality investigated an egg farm in West Sussex and found many of the hens were suffering from severe feather loss and were completely bald with raw skin. Others didn’t survive and their bodies were left to decay in cages alongside living hens.

Factory Farmed Cows 

Cows in The Dairy Industry

Every year, around 2.6 million cows are exploited for their milk in the UK. 

They are kept indoors and forced into a life of misery spent walking back and forth to the milking stations where they are attached to milking machines that take the milk intended for their calves. 

Because of the growing industrialisation of farms in the UK, many facilities are adopting a zero-graze system, where cows are not allowed to step foot on the grass, ever.  

But that’s not all. Because of the unnatural living conditions, approximately 30% of cows in the dairy industry become lame and many suffer from mastitis, an infection of the udder. 

Cows are extremely maternal and social animals who can naturally live up to 20 years. However, on dairy farms, a cow is slaughtered when she is around three or four years old and sold for cheap meat or leather products. 

Animal Equality has investigated four dairy farms in the UK, exposing the truth about the dairy industry to the world. Our latest exposé inside a Welsh dairy farm aired on BBC Panorama and showed acts of unspeakable abuses and violence, where cows were kicked in the stomach and punched in the face.  

Factory Farmed Pigs

Over 10 million pigs are slaughtered each year in the UK alone. Most of them are factory farmed, with more than 60% of mother pigs and almost all pigs kept indoors in concrete or slatted floor pens, where they have a measly one square metre of space each.

Pigs in factory farms are not able to fulfil their basic needs and instincts. Pregnant or mother pigs are confined in ‘farrowing crates’ for weeks on end where they are unable to move or turn around, let alone care for their babies. Because of the extremely limited space they are allowed, piglets become bored and stressed, causing many to painfully bite their brothers and sisters and sometimes even turn to cannibalism. For this reason, farmers often cut piglets’ tails and clip their teeth, without giving them any painkillers. 

Routine tail docking or teeth clipping are not permitted under UK law, permitted only with the approval of a veterinarian, yet these processes are carried out regularly on farms. 

In May 2021, we released an investigation inside a ‘quality assured’ pig farm where we filmed piglets being hammered to death or slammed against the concrete floor.

Our investigation is further evidence of a system that is cruel and failing. With increased inspections in place, we can witness and document the treatment of these animals, and hold animal abusers to account. 

Join us in urging the Government to put in place stricter, more regular inspections inside farms and slaughterhouses. 

Aquaculture: Farmed Fish

In the UK, up to 77 million fish are farmed and killed each year. That’s approximately 8,790 per hour. 

Although there is clear scientific evidence that fish feel pain and can suffer just like other animals, farmed fish still do not receive the same legal protections as farmed land animals. 

According to the Animal Welfare Act (2006), fish are protected against ‘unnecessary suffering’ and farmers are required to ensure that their ‘needs are met’. Although fish are included within the general protections under The Welfare of Farmed Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) Regulations – which means that they ‘should be spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering during their killing and related operations’ – they are not included in the definition of ‘animal’ for inclusion in more detailed WATOK provisions. Therefore, there are currently no specific requirements as to how they should be handled or killed. 

In February 2021, Animal Equality released a first-of-its-kind investigation into a Scottish salmon slaughterhouse operated by The Scottish Salmon Company. Our footage revealed salmon showing clear signs of prolonged suffering during the final moments of their short lives. Despite a stunning device being in place in the facility, significant numbers of salmon showed signs of consciousness at the time of the killing. Many had their gills painfully cut while they were still conscious and others fell to the floor and were left to asphyxiated.

Factory Farming in the UK: Regulations

Current Regulations

In the UK, the main law relating to animal welfare is the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which applies to all vertebrate animals (any animal with a backbone). The Animal Welfare Act defines the conditions animals should be kept in, as well as the consequences in law for those who fail to abide by the rules. 

Among other things, the Act states that animals should be kept in a ‘suitable environment where they can express natural behaviours and that they should be caused no unnecessary suffering’

Because of the way it is designed, factory farming often contradicts this principle, as the animals have very little space to carry out their most natural behaviours. 

Pregnant and mother pigs are kept in cages for weeks on end, unable to turn around or nurse their young. Their piglets will often have their teeth clipped and tails chopped off, without anaesthetic, to prevent them from biting each other – a stress-induced behaviour that comes as a result of the overcrowded and unnatural conditions in which they are forced to live. And the space given to each chicken raised for their meat is little more than the size of an A4 sheet of paper, meaning they can barely flap their wings or dust bathe. 

In addition to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, farmed animals are also protected by The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007. These regulations provide minimum standards specific for each farmed animal species. 

But for laws to be effective, they must be applied and followed. Unfortunately, as our investigations have shown time and again, this is too often not the case on intensive farms and in slaughterhouses. 


For any policies or welfare standards to have a direct effect on the lives of animals, appropriate enforcement measures need to be in place. The laws must be monitored and, where illegality is discovered, those involved must be held accountable.

Without proper enforcement, vulnerable animals are left even more vulnerable and the animal agriculture industry is given even greater power and autonomy, knowing that laws can be broken with few consequences. 

In the UK there are several regulatory bodies responsible for ensuring that the laws in place to protect farmed animals are being followed. With over 180 bodies involved, it is a fragmented and complex system.

When laws are violated, local authorities are responsible for initiating formal enforcement action, which may or may not lead to prosecution.

Animal Equality’s Findings

Animal Equality has investigated nearly 50 facilities in the UK and found illegality, extreme suffering or deliberate cruelty in each and every one of them. 

When there are laws in place to protect farmed animals, we must demand that the relevant authorities ensure that these laws are enforced. We cannot rely solely on animal protection organisations to bring to light violations and illegalities.

For this reason, we are now calling for stricter and more regular inspections to be put in place, and urging the Government to put in place a licensing system. This would mean that all farms and slaughterhouses would have to pay to be registered, be subject to more frequent and more unannounced inspections, and if they fail to pass those inspections they would face the prospect of losing their licence to operate. 

A system like this already exists for zoos and breeding facilities. It is time to apply to the industry that rears and kills the greatest number of animals in the entire world. 

We must fight for the animals trapped in this cruel system. By pushing for laws to be complied with, we are pushing to ensure that pigs no longer routinely have their tails painfully cut off, chicks are no longer forced to sit on their own urine and develop raw body burns, and hens will no longer be crammed into cages with over 100 other hens.

We’ve so far gathered thousands of signatures. Help us reach even more by adding your name and speaking up for animals today!

Demand the Government holds animal abusers accountable – SIGN NOW!

By signing, you accept our privacy policy.

You can unsubscribe or amend your preferences at any time.

Factory Farming: Alternatives

Although intensive farms cause the most suffering to animals, all forms of animal agriculture are based on the exploitation of animals. 

Animal Equality has investigated intensive, free-range and organic farms and documented animal abuse in each of them.

Regardless of where animals are raised, they all end up in the same slaughter facilities, where they too often die a painful and frightening death. 

For this reason, the best way to help animals is to leave them off your plate and adopt a plant-based diet. 

save animals, eat plant based

As a consumer, you hold the power to protect animals from the meat industry. Every plant-based meal saves animals from a life of misery in factory farms and slaughterhouses. 

Most Popular