Modern animal agriculture

Terms like "Factory Farming" are often used to describe modern animal agriculture. Unfortunately, this terminology seems to de-humanize the practice of raising livestock and poultry, which is not at all true. Farm sizes have gotten bigger for all livestock species and poultry. This is simply a result of efficiencies of size and the public demand for low-cost meat, milk and eggs in the supermarket. The reality is that 50 years ago, a farmer could support a family of four by having 50-100 sows. Now it takes many more sows to support that family of four. We often hear about the loss of the family farm, which in many cases, simply is not true; that family farm has just gotten a lot bigger. This is the same whether we are talking about livestock production or crop production.

There has also been a large shift towards "confinement" operations. This again, is somewhat of an unfortunate term, since confinement simply means that the animals are being raised indoors. When animals are moved completely inside, they obviously loose some things like exposure to sunlight and grass. They are also usually housed in pens with less square feet per animal than in outdoor production systems. However, their environment can be better controlled indoors.  It can be heated, ventilated and cooled. Feed consumption and animal health can be easily monitored. Exposure to direct sunlight seems like a great thing until you realize that pigs sunburn very easily. That lush green pasture looks great in early summer, but in the middle of winter when temperatures drop, it looks a lot less appealing. The purpose of this article is not to argue about which production system is best. Both indoor and outdoor productions systems can be made to work, and it will take a combination of production systems to feed the world's growing population. The purpose of this article is to better familiarize readers with some of the terminology used to describe modern animal agriculture, and to explain how size does matter in terms of regulatory requirements.

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