Factory Farming

From Encyclopedia of Wisconsin Environmental History
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Factory farming is a contemporary set of agriculture practice(s) where larger corporations use economies of sale when producing animal products. They do this by owning a high number of animals that are confined in (a) closer proximity than farmers typically have in the past. It is done in order to more cheaply produce a greater quantity of products such as meat or milk.

Environmental and ethical concerns are often brought up when discussing factory farming. Treatment of animals, the necessity of the practice, and its effect on the environment are often mentioned when examining the issues surrounding factory farming.

Factory farms have been on the rise in Wisconsin and are increasing in number year after year. Their impact on the environment and family farms is heavily criticized.


Early in Wisconsin history, wheat was the most important cash crop for farmers in Wisconsin. Due to the small capital investment and easy return rate, wheat soared to being the prominent form of agriculture in Wisconsin. For a while, Wisconsin was even known as America's breadbasket. However, it was hard on the soil so farmers had to explore other farming options. [1] Farmers in Wisconsin turned to dairy farms as a solution. Between the efforts of emigrants from New York, promotion, and the scientific research from the University of Wisconsin, dairy farming soon became one of the most popular forms of agriculture in Wisconsin.

The seeds for factory farming to grow from were planted in the late 19th century. Animal nutrition was bolstered by the discovery of vitamins and subsequent vitamin supplements. Furthering the development of factory farming in the United States was the discovery of antibiotics and vaccines. Thanks to these developments in medical science, animals could be raised in greater numbers without fear of rampant disease. Next, chemicals used in World War II gave way for the development of synthetic pesticides, increasing crop yields. As the nation modernized and developed its shipping networks/technology, factory farming became more and more feasible.

In the last few decades, factory farming has emerged as the dominant form of agriculture, including in Wisconsin. Factory farms push small and medium scale farms out of business on a regular basis. This exodus of small-scale farmers is only accelerated by the idea that family dairy farms are a thing of the past. The economic hardships that small-scale dairy farmers face are enormous. They are not benefited by economies of scale like the large farms are and are vulnerable to swings in market prices. Farming is also continuously seen as brutally hard work which deters more people from getting into the business. Large farms which can afford many workers and new technology can make it significantly easier to take care of animals while taking on economic risk. Due to the benefits of economies of scale, they are able to sustain greater means to produce even greater ends. Their efficiency overshadows any merits of being a small-scale farmer.


Factory farms have many positives that often get overlooked due to their reputation. First of all, they are able to drive down the cost of food to cheap prices. They are incredibly efficient and fast which allows greater amounts of food to be produced. They use less capital to make more food, lowering the price of it in the grocery stores. If factory farms were abolished, consumers could expect spikes in food prices everywhere. Due to the efficiency, less people are needed to run their own farm operations which frees up society to take on other roles or jobs.

In addition to being more efficient, they are also more financially stable. Small farms suffer to keep afloat financially as they do not benefit from economies of scale. Large farms are able to spread out the costs of taking care of animals over a greater margin. They need less money to take care of more animals. The expensive technology they buy easily pays for itself and then helps increase profits. If small-scale farmers try buying new technology, they would be buried in debt and unable to ever pay it back. Thus, they are always behind the curb in maximizing potential profits.

Large farms also provides jobs to a great number of employees. In order to function properly, they have to hire many people in order to stay running. People who are suffering from economic hardship often take these jobs as they are simple and available. Factory farms run like assembly lines in the way that everyone has specialized roles they specifically follow. Unlike a small farm, the work force doesn't need to be skilled in variety of areas; they just have to do their specific job well. [2]


Factory farms also have a lot of cons or criticisms associated with them. The first one is the issue of animal cruelty. Animals in factory farms are often seen as primarily economic units instead of living creatures. They are usually kept inside in small, confined areas. To combat the health risks that such living conditions foster, they are treated with medicine instead of adjusting their situations. However, there still are health risks to be noted, even with science combating them.

Another issue as previously mentioned is the impact on the farming community. Family farms are unable to compete with large farms so they often go out of business. Wisconsin, like any other state, is losing its family farms at an alarming rate. Some argue that family farms are a more organic form of agriculture and that they should be encouraged instead of factory farms.

One of the biggest issues surrounding family farms is its affect on the environment. Naturally, large farms produce a lot of waste; more then they can actually hand sometimes. Sometimes, water is polluted as they fail to properly handle it. Animals have also been cited as contributors to air pollution/global warming. Breeding more of them and swelling their ranks to incredible amounts leads to detrimental affects on air quality.[3]


This section needs additional work.

http://apecsec.org/factory-farming-pros-and-cons/ http://global.wisc.edu/webb/units/factory-farms.pdf http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp-028/?action=more_essay

  1. Wisconsin Historical Society, The Raise of Dairy Farming (Madison, 2015), para. 3, accessed November 30, 2015, ProQuest ebrary.
  2. " , March 21, 2014.
  3. http://apecsec.org/factory-farming-pros-and-cons/

Additional Published Resources

  • Ostergren, Robert C. and Thomas R. Vale. Wisconsin Land and Life. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed November 24, 2015).

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