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How much do you like your grilled chicken or pork chops? Imagine if you could only access them from the store every once in a long while?
Well, with the ever-increasing demand for animal proteins, the equilibrium requires an increasing supply. That is where intensive animal farming comes in!
What is Intensive Farming?
Intensive farming is an agricultural system that is primarily built on the principles of intensification and mechanization systems. The systems work towards maximizing the yields obtained from the available land through various means.
Intensive farming is practiced on both crop plants and animals. The employed ways involve higher levels of input and output for every cubic unit of agricultural land area. The system is primarily defined by a low fallow ratio. Higher use of inputs like labor and capital to produce higher crop yields per unit land area.
Intensive farming employs the intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, growth accelerators and regulators, and other mechanized techniques to boost production per acreage. These methods have also been used in raising livestock. Numerous animals are held and raised indoors in what is now commonly known as factory farms.
Unlike extensive types of farming that invests less on inputs such as labor, capital and fertilizers on a large-scale area of land mostly for animals, intensive farming is an agricultural practice that proportionally maximizes production with increased inputs of labor and capital per utilized area of land.
The term intensive farming may be used interchangeably with intensive or industrial agriculture. It is attributed to a bountiful crop yield within a small-sized land area. Such an intensified system of farming has for a long time been embraced not only in crop production but also in livestock rearing where animals e.g. cows and chickens, are stocked in large numbers per acre of land.
Intensive farming practices produce higher amounts of cheaper food per animal and acre of land. Increased food production has played a significant role in meeting the rising food demand resulting from the ever booming human population. It has also prevented the conversion of the surrounding commercial pieces of land into agricultural land.
Intensive animal farming, also known as industrial livestock production, is a specific approach to animal husbandry. It is designed to maximize production and reduce the involved costs.
Agribusinesses keep livestock of fish, poultry and cattle at high stocking densities. The livestock is kept on a large scale and the use of biotechnology, modern machinery and global trade tools are employed.
The main produce of intensive farming is milk, eggs and meat for human consumption. Ethical issues are still debatable as to the benefits and risks involved with intensive animal farming. Such issues are mainly based on the effectiveness of food production methods.
Concerns are also raised on the animals’ welfare as well as the involved health risks and the impact on the environment. On the environmental impact, intensive animal farming is associated with climate change and agricultural pollution.
Types of Intensive Farming
Intensive farms contain large numbers of animals. Cows, pigs, chickens, or turkeys are mainly kept indoors at high densities. These farms aim to produce meat, milk or eggs in large quantities while incurring the least cost possible. The food supply is maintained.
Numerous methods are used to improve production and maintain the health of the animals. These methods include the use of vaccines and hormones, disinfectants and antimicrobial agents as well as vitamin, protein and mineral supplements. Animals raised in intensive farms require frequent health checkups, bio-security systems, and facilities with controlled environmental conditions.
Fences or creeps are used as physical restraints whose aim is to control the movement and actions made by the animals. Breeding programs have been put in place to produce animals that are adaptable to confined environments. The programs also seek to ensure that the livestock produces consistent food products. Intensive production of livestock and poultry is widespread, especially in developed countries.
Intensive chicken farming saw its biggest breakthrough in the 20th century after the breathtaking discovery of vitamin D. It made it possible to keep poultry in confined places all year-round. Chicken need sunlight for the vitamins to grow, produce eggs, and incubate them. Overcoming this huge challenge experienced by farmers during winter made such a huge difference.
Egg production has been increased greatly by controlled environmental parameters. Chickens are given access to artificial light cycles that stimulate egg production throughout the year. Forced molting has also been employed in some countries. It involves the manipulation of food and light access to trigger an increase in egg size as well as increased production.
Averagely, a chicken lays one egg daily. Though, it is not on every single day of the year. Variance is informed by the poultry breed and the seasons of the year. Currently, meat-type broilers are the most intensively farmed type of poultry.
Cattle are intensively kept as livestock to produce meat, milk and leather. Common interactions with cattle have to be done daily. They involve milking, feeding and cleaning. When it comes to husbandry practices these interactions involve hoof care, medical operations, dehorning, and ear tagging. They could also touch on preparations and training for exhibition in agricultural shows.
After obtaining the entry-level weight of around 650 pounds, the cattle are transferred to a feedlot. The cattle are fed on specialized animal feed away from the range. These animal feeds are made up of corn byproducts, grains and barley. Premixes made of vitamin and mineral micro-ingredients are also contained in the feed.
Concerns raised on potential harmful effects on human health are primarily on the modern cattle industrial agriculture system. Potential dangers are linked to the antibiotics and growth hormones used. Intensive cattle farming results in higher saturated fat content in the meat due to the improved feeds. The high levels of fat and environmental side effects remain issues of absolute concern.
Intensive pig farming is mainly done in hog lots. These intensive piggeries are also called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. They are specialized for the raising of domestic pigs. The pigs remain in these operations until they meet the targeted slaughter weight.
Using these systems, grower pigs are held indoors in straw-lined sheds. They could also be held in group-housing. Pregnant sows are confined in specialized sow stalls or gestation crates. The pregnant pigs give birth in the farrowing crates.
The use of sow stalls greatly reduces the costs of production. It has also lessened the controversies and concerns associated with animal welfare. The use of sow stalls has been embraced in most intensive pig farms across the globe. However, they are banned in some areas.
Intensive piggeries are similar to large warehouses. Through the indoor pig systems, the pigs’ conditions are monitored and controlled. Such measures increase the level of production and avoid fatalities. Buildings used for these purposes have regulated temperatures and are well ventilated.
Most domesticated pig varieties are adversely affected by extreme heat. Pigs cannot cool themselves naturally since they do not have sweat glands. Maintaining a specific temperature that is within the pig-tolerance range is crucial. Pigs have a minimal tolerance to high temperatures. If unattended, it could lead to stress and result in death.
Maintaining a specific temperature that is tolerable for the pigs maximizes their growth. On normal conditions, pigs cool themselves by wallowing in mud. However, intensive operations deny them access to their natural cooling mechanism. Intensive piggeries control the temperature through increased ventilation and water drip systems.
Large intensive pig farms are likely to be surrounded by farmland growing feed-grain crops. If this is not the case, the pig farms could rely on the grains industry. In the intensive piggery system, pigs are confined in individual stalls. Each stall allows a portion of the feed to be allotted for the pigs. Through the individual feeding system, it is possible to facilitate individual administering of medication through the feed.
Facilitating medication is critical in the methods used in intensive farming. The proximity of animals to one another creates a conducive environment for diseases to spread rapidly. This endangers the animals’ health and wellbeing. To prevent the risks associated with the spread of disease, antibiotics are administered preemptively. The drug programs also include various supplements such as vitamins and hormones. The supplements and medication aimed at encouraging the growth of the animals.
In indoor systems such as pens and stalls, it is easy to collect waste. An indoor intensive pig farm can comfortably manage its waste as manure through waste management systems. The odor is what requires a detailed plan and proves a difficult problem to manage.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Intensive Farming
Needless to say, intensive animal farming plays a significant role in the creation and sustenance of steady food supply. Increased production of meat, eggs and milk contributes to a significant percentage of the food consumed globally. The reduced costs of production and increased yields make food cheaper and more readily available. Intensive livestock farming provides food security and supports livelihoods.
Intensive livestock farming is a great contributor to the economies of scales. As an industry, intensive farms inject billions of dollars into the economy. Activities with intensive farms also contribute a great deal of other economic activities.
Such activities are linked to the services that rely on it. These services range from feed producers, equipment manufacturers, butchers, transport companies, and retailers. Intensive animal farming is one of the fastest growing sectors in the agricultural economy.
Despite the numerous benefits accrued from intensive farming, it also comes with its share of negative side effects. Intensive farming is a dire threat to the global environment through global warming effects as well as the loss of ecosystem services. Intensive animal farming is a major driver to global environmental degradation as well as biodiversity loss.
Growing feeds for intensive animal use involves processes that are heavily reliant on the use of pesticides and fertilizers. The use of chemicals in large quantities for a long period results in air, water and soil pollution. Agrochemicals and manure waste are significant agents of pollution. Intensive animal farms require unlimited use of limited natural resources such as water and energy.
Animal welfare has continually remained a concern that the intensification of livestock farms bring. Since intensive animal farms aim at reducing the involved costs of production, costs saving techniques employed do not prioritize the wellbeing of the animals. From poorer conditions, the animals’ health and welfare are not maintained at the best possible conditions.
Legislation in some countries and regions recognize animals as sentient beings. It is argued that animals should not be treated just like mere commodities whose only role is to produce and generate an income. It is these arguments on how or if animals can experience emotions such as stress and pain that make intensive farms less desirable.
Intensive animal farms also pose a significant danger to human health impact. The farm animals are heavily reliant on chemicals and pesticides. The prolonged exposure to harmful chemicals can cause adverse health conditions in the farmworkers.
They could develop acute and chronic illnesses such as lung disease and musculoskeletal injuries. It is also possible for some infections to transmit from animals to human beings such as tuberculosis.
The labor force in intensive farms in unprotected. Small farmers are tasked with running the factory farm operations. They act as contract growers for intensive farms.
However, most of the workers in concentrated animal farming operations are immigrants. They receive little or no job-specific training or safety and health information on the hazards associated with their jobs.
Most of the workers with minimal English proficiency are not likely to receive any training since it is in most cases only provided in English. Not only do these workers fail to perceive their jobs as dangerous, but they also have access to inconsistent personal protective equipment (PPEs).