Every year billions of animals suffer pain, distress, and death to sate a hunger that would be better addressed by a vegan diet. Furthermore, farming has become a big business controlled by large corporations and assembly line methods of production. The animals are treated as nothing more than raw materials. Would you want to sleep, eat, bear young, and die in the equivalent of a factory that produced cars, paint, or paper? This is what the animals endure.
After a few months "on the range," most beef cattle are rounded up and shipped long distances to crowded, squalid feedlots to be "finished," or brought up to market weight through an unnatural diet, kept down with large doses of antibiotics. To make them more tractable, steers are routinely, and painfully, castrated and dehorned without anesthesia. If the cows survive the trip to the slaughterhouse, they face poorly-paid workers who are forced to ignore the animals' suffering.
Unwanted male calves, a by-product of the dairy industry, are used to produce veal. Newborn calves are taken straight from their mothers and confined in wooden stalls, tethered by a chain around their neck. Instead of gamboling in a field, these young animals have their movement severely restricted in order to prevent muscle development and speed weight gain. The calves live in these stalls for the next 13 to 15 weeks and only leave the stall when it is time for slaughter.
Before the advent of modern factory farming, a dairy cow produced an average of 9,000 pounds of milk per year. Now the average is 16,000 pounds a year. Thanks to genetic manipulation, growth hormones, and intensive production techniques, cows are forcibly impregnated each year or until their milk production declines, at which point they go to slaughter. Most dairy cows end up as ground hamburger.
"Broiler" chickens (chickens raised for meat) are placed in windowless sheds, on the floor or in cages. In the shed, hundreds to tens of thousands of chickens live amid toxic dust, feces, and fumes. Inside the shed, all aspects of the chicken's environment is controlled, from the lighting to the amount of food and water available, in order to make them grow faster on less feed.
These conditions cause outbreaks of fighting, with birds pecking at each other's feathers and sometimes killing and eating each other. In order to prevent such situations, the farmer subjects the chickens to a painful process called "debeaking," in which a part of a chick's beak is cut off.
Laying hens are cramped into stacked cages about the size of a record album, with three to nine birds fighting for space. A shed of laying hens may contain as many as a quarter million birds or more. The cages have a sloping wire floor, which makes it uncomfortable for the hens to stand. The wire floor often cuts the hens' deformed feet and the skin frequently grows back around the metal wiring. Their wings are rubbed raw by the wire walls of the cage.
These birds lay almost an egg a day for a year. Then they are either killed and fed back to the flock, sold as food, or are placed in a forced molt, which denies them all light, food, and water for one to two weeks, to get them to start laying again. A third of the birds will not survive a forced molt. Male chicks born to egg laying hens are of no use and are discarded. It is estimated that 380 million are thrown in garbage bags to die, gassed, or worse, crushed or ground alive. The natural lifespan of a chicken ranges from 7-20 years. Laying hens survive for approximately 18 months, and a broiler has but seven weeks.
Pigs are intelligent, aware creatures, with an intellect comparable to that of dogs. Factory farmed pigs spend their lives in intensive confinement, painfully restricted to a crate that is 18 to 24 inches wide.
Under these conditions pigs resort to biting each other, usually one another's tails. Farmers respond by cutting off the pigs' tails, while boars' noses are broken to keep them from fighting.
Sows are turned into living reproduction machines, artificially inseminated on "rape racks" when they are just six to eight months old. Pregnancy lasts about four months, yielding litter of approximately a dozen piglets. Against all natural instinct, the sow is forced to tend to her young in a pen on a bare cement floor, scarcely large enough to hold her body. The piglets only suckle for a few weeks and she is quickly impregnated again. She will breed four to seven more litters before being sold for slaughter.
Rescued farm pigs often have short life spans because their genetically-altered bodies cannot handle the strain of their massive weight on such frail legs. They were never meant to live "normal" lives and must endure bodies manipulated by science and greed. Some are unable to walk more than a hundred feet without having to stop and rest. The natural lifespan of a pig is 10-15 years. Sows generally live for 3-4 years.
The Myth of "Humane" Meat and Eggs
Many products hype the fact that their eggs are free-range or that the livestock are allowed to roam freely and treated "humanely." The reality is not the rosy picture people are asked to believe. An article in Consumer Reports states, "USDA requires only that growers sign an affidavit that they will provide free-range chickens with access to the outdoors, and submit drawings or photographs with arrows pointing to the coops' doors. Says Oppenheimer, If the door was open only one day...or maybe even for an hour or 15 minutes, and no bird chose to go outside, it's still free-range as far as the USDA is concerned.' Male chicks are discarded, just the same as those born to caged hens. Ultimately the hens are killed for meat, once past their egg-laying prime. These animals don't escape the slaughterhouse. Just because living conditions might be marginally better doesn't make the industry acceptable — or worthy of support.