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June 18, 2018  |  Login
Organic Livestock: Free-Range and Factory Farming
By Yvonne Jeffery, Liz Barclay & Michael Grosvenor

Organic livestock farming takes into account both the health of the animals as well as their welfare. Factory farming concentrates many animals in a limited space, which can result in an overflow of animal waste on each farm and the need to use extra water and chemicals to assist in removing the waste. Additional chemical use can lead to chemicals leaching into the soil and the water table, and it can mean that the animals are less healthy and may often need to be treated with antibiotics and other medicines. Organically raised animals, however, must be free-range, which means they have access to the outdoors, including pasture. They aren't confined within buildings but may be kept in buildings temporarily for health or safety reasons.

The rules on what constitutes free range aren't always what green experts would wish; free range covers a variety of conditions, from the birds being able to wander in a natural environment to the birds having access to a small outdoor enclosure that may not be very natural. It's a good idea to check with the producer if you can in order to find out what free range means in the context of a particular product.

Factory farming methods have evolved to meet the ever-growing demand for meat. The organic approach may be slower and less profitable - animals must have room to move, and so fewer animals can be produced from the same amount of land, for example - but it produces cleaner and healthier animals.

If you find it difficult to locate organic meat, ask your local butcher to stock some organic and sustainable options; increased demand increases supply. The environment will be better off, and your local butcher will have a guaranteed customer. You also can purchase food from animals that have been raised in a sustainable way through the Eat Well Guide at The site has searchable listings of producers across the country.

The Life and Times of a Factory-Farm Chicken

You only have to look at how chickens are treated on a factory farm to understand how viruses such as bird flu strains can evolve and spread quickly and why eating meat can introduce chemicals into your diet. That's not to mention the welfare issues related to treating animals with a significant lack of compassion. Here's some insight into how chickens live their lives on factory farms:

  • Many hens born and raised on a factory farm can live their whole lives crammed inside cages next to other chickens, never seeing anything outside the cage in which they're housed.

  • Most hens raised on a factory farm have never walked, never stretched their wings, never made a nest, and never foraged for food.

  • Because of their desire to move around, the hens can become aggressive and peck at the other chickens around them, causing injury and disease. To avoid that, many hens' beaks are cut off when they're born.

  • Chickens raised for meat (called broilers) spend relatively short lives in sheds with hundreds or even thousands of other birds. They're fed with growth hormones so that they grow quickly, which makes them predisposed to disease and physical abnormalities. Many of these birds die of heart attacks, dehydration, or starvation because they can't even stand or walk to feeders.

You can find more information about factory farming from the U.S. Animal Welfare Institute (, which recently launched its Animal Welfare Approved certification program for family farms.

Go even more in-depth in ecomii's Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Guide.




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