Farmed animals are intelligent, social, caring beings, but on many farms their lives are very restricted and often full of suffering. 

Intensive farming

Turkeys in an intensive farm.

Many farming systems, including in the UK, are intensive, keeping animals in crowded, barren environments and denying them the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives. These types of farms are industrialised, profit-driven, production lines. Instead of breathing fresh air and grazing in fields, many farmed animals spend their entire lives existing in giant metal sheds where they never see daylight. 

The process of selective breeding so that hens lay more eggs, chickens and turkeys grow larger and faster, and dairy cows produce more milk, has led to various grave health conditions that cause immense pain and suffering.

Mutilations, including castration, tail docking of lambs and pigs, tooth clipping of piglets, and beak trimming of hens, are common. These painful procedures are often carried out without anaesthetic or pain relief. Beak trimming and tail docking of piglets are a response to the damaging behaviours of feather pecking and tail biting, caused by the animals’ restricted, stressful lives.


Cow with new-born calf

Like humans, animals can only produce milk after they have given birth. For humans to have cows’, sheep or goats’ milk, the animals are repeatedly impregnated. To preserve the milk for human consumption, most young animals are separated from their mother within a day after being born. The separation process is an emotionally painful experience for both.

Female offspring will be reared as the next dairy herd. If they are born male, they will either be regarded as a ‘by-product’ and killed – which is happening less now than in the past – or fattened and slaughtered for the meat industry.

Dairy farming in the UK is increasingly intensive, with some farms moving to zero-grazing systems where the cows never go outside. When dairy cows are housed (either in zero-grazing systems or over winter) they may have cubicles that are too small for them to stand and lie comfortably. This can result in cows standing with their hind feet in their own excrement, causing painful foot infections, and in tail injuries from other cows stepping on the tail lying in the aisle (which can lead to tail amputation).

Cows reared in indoor barns.

Although cows are social animals these housing conditions can also cause social stress as they can’t choose when or how to interact and there is competition for resources.


Cows are bred specifically to produce large quantities of milk, which means giving birth more often than is natural and puts huge strain on their bodies, causing chronic health conditions. Once milk production drops or they are chronically lame or infertile, they will be slaughtered, at only a few years old.


Hens in cages

When battery cages were banned in the EU in 2012, so called ‘enriched’ cages were developed, but they only provide a small amount of extra space per bird. They can allow hens to express some of their natural behaviours, such as perching and nesting, but the design of the cages means these behaviours are still very restricted. The perches are very low (just a few inches from the floor of the cage) so hens cannot fly up to a high perch to be safe from feather pecking. The litter area is often very limited, and effective dust bathing generally is not possible. Hens kept in these cages cannot run, fly, or experience fresh air and sunlight. They will not leave their cages until they are taken to slaughter.

Hens have been selectively bred to have such high egg production that is uses up most of the calcium, making them very prone to osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Male chicks are considered to have no value and are killed at one day old.

Chickens raised for meat

Hens reared for meat (broilers) in high intensive conditions.

Selective breeding and unlimited food mean that chickens and turkeys reared for meat grow unnaturally large and fast. This causes leg disorders and constant pain, and by the end of their short lives – only 35-42 days – these birds are often unable to bear their own weight.

Birds used for breeding grow just as fast but are kept alive into adulthood. To reduce their growth rate their feed is restricted, meaning they are constantly hungry.

More than a billion chickens are reared and slaughtered for their meat in the UK each year. Most are reared in highly intensive conditions, in huge windowless sheds that contain up to 100,000 birds. When the chicks are small, they have sufficient room to move around, but by the time they are taken to be slaughtered space is so restricted that the birds hardly have room to move.

During that time, the litter on the ground becomes ammonia soaked. As they spend a lot of time sitting or lying because they struggle to move the birds can develop painful hock burns, breast blisters and ulcerated feet from contact with the ammonia.


Sow in farrowing crate.

In the UK, most sows are kept indoors and spend at least two-thirds of their lives in pregnancy. A week before they give birth, intensively kept sows are moved into small farrowing crates where they give birth and remain for three to four weeks until the piglets are weaned.  The sows are barely able to move and cannot even turn around. They cannot build a nest or care for their piglets. If the piglets bite their mother’s teats she cannot move away, so the management response to this problem is to clip the piglets’ teeth a day or two after birth. 

Pigs being raised for slaughter are usually housed in groups in small empty pens with slatted floors. In these conditions, the pig’s natural instincts for rooting and foraging are entirely denied, they are bored and frustrated, and there is social pressure. This leads to stress and unnatural behaviour, especially tail biting. Instead of providing a more interesting environment, even in the most basic way by giving the pigs straw to root around in, piglets’ tails are routinely docked. 


Salmon farm in Scotland

Salmon farming is a major industry in Scotland. The salmon live in crowded, barren sea cages. They suffer from disease, sea lice which eat their flesh, oxygen depletion, mutations, and the effects of climate related incidents such as algal blooms. Handling and treatments are stressful for them, as are the crowding and lack of interest in their environment.

Free range and organic

Free range is a set of standards requiring that animals have access to the outdoors. While this can offer better welfare, it is not guaranteed. For example, many laying hens may not actually be able to access the outdoor area as there are not enough doors and only the more dominant hens use them. They may also be scared to use the outdoor area as it is without any shelter that allows them to feel safe from predators.

In the UK, Organic certification means that animals are not given routine antibiotics, growth hormones or any other chemicals. There can also be a restriction on performing painful mutilations and keeping animals in cages or crates, and year-round access to outdoors must be available. This means that organic systems are higher welfare. However, animals in organic farms still experience some of the other harms described above, such as the separation of dairy cows and calves, and are still slaughtered for food at a fraction of their natural lifespan.

Assurance schemes

Various schemes aim to assure people that the ‘product’ they are buying came from animals whose welfare was protected. However, these schemes are voluntary, and standards differ widely, making it difficult to know what they really mean. Red Tractor is widely recognised and seen as a sign of quality, but its standards are barely above the legal minimum. Undercover investigations have shown that standards of such schemes are not always met on assured farms.

Every single animal, farmed in any one of these systems, is a sentient being. Every one of them has the capacity to experience pleasure, joy, pain, distress, and fear. 

What can you do?

  • The best way we can help farmed animals is to be vegan. We have provided some helpful resources here.
  • Our current campaign to ban farmed animal cages is here, you can help by sending a letter to the minister.
  • Make a donation to our current campaigns.
  • Share this info with your friends and family.