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Factory Farms in California

Fact Sheet • January 2011

O ver the last two decades, small- and medium-scale livestock farms have given
way to factory farms that confine thousands of cows, hogs and chickens in
tightly packed facilities. In California, there were 131,000 hogs, 563,000 beef cattle,
1,678,000 dairy cows and 69,291,000 chickens on the largest operations in 2007,
according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture. California
ranks first in factory-farmed dairy production, fourth in factory-farmed egg-laying
hens, sixth in large cattle feedlots and seventh in factory-farmed broiler chickens.

The silos and gentle mead- the United States lost 52,000 dairy farms — about 5,000
ows pictured on the labels of farms every year.1 The rise of the factory-farmed dairy
the food most Americans buy industry has transformed the national dairy landscape and
have little relation to how that shifted milk production away from traditional dairy states
food is actually produced. The like Wisconsin, Michigan and New York to mega-dairy
significant growth in industrial- operations in western states.2 The number of factory-farmed
scale, factory-farmed livestock dairy cows in California increased by almost half from
has contributed to a host of 1997 to 2007, adding nearly 543,000 cows for a total of
environmental, public health, 1.7 million. The average California dairy operation in-
economic and food safety creased by 34 percent to 1,521 cows.
problems. Tens of thousands of
Concentration of factory animals can generate millions of Small dairies generate less manure than factory farms and
farms in California, taken tons of manure annually, which can either apply it to cropland or incorporate it into pasture
from pollutes water and air and can as fertilizer. Big dairies generate far more manure than
Dark red indicates the most they can use as fertilizer, so it gets stored in lagoons or is
severe density.
have health repercussions on
nearby communities. Consum-
ers in distant markets also feel
the impacts, either through foodborne illness outbreaks or
Total Factory Farm Animals in California
other public health risks, or through the loss of regional
food systems. As consumers saw during the 2010 egg re- Beef Dairy Broilers Layers
call, food safety problems on even a few factory farms can
end up in everyone’s refrigerators. Even the producers are
not benefitting from this system of production because they
are not getting paid much for the livestock they raise.

The rise of factory farming was no accident. It resulted from

policy choices driven by big agribusinesses, especially
meatpackers and processors that dominate the links in the
food chain between livestock producers and consumers.

In recent decades, small and mid-sized dairy farms disap-
peared and were replaced by factory-farmed dairies that
now dominate milk production. Between 1997 and 2007, Source: USDA.
over-applied to cropland, where it can run off into nearby The Average Size of a Factory-Farm Beef Feedlot
waterways. California fined the owner of three dairies in
Stanislaus County $147,000 for eight violations of clean
water rules between 1999 and 2006 in which manure-
tainted wastewater leaked into waterways, irrigation canals
and local rivers.
Beef 0 ,
5,000 10,000 15,000 20,000

Over the past decade, large-scale feedlots that fatten beef Source: USDA. National California
cattle prior to slaughter came to dominate the entire cattle
industry. Until the mid-1960s, most feedlots were family-
owned operations with fewer than 1,000 head.3 Now, the Factory farms cause extensive environmental damage and
largest beef feedlots finish nearly 16,000 cattle annually. leave communities with fewer independent family farms,
Nearly three-quarters of the nation’s beef comes from these unsafe water, reduced air quality and depressed economies.
largest factory-farmed feedlots.4 In 2007, the average Cali- Instead of benefitting, consumers face foodborne illness
fornia beef feedlot had nearly 19,000 cows — considerably outbreaks and public health threats like antibiotic-resistant
larger than the national average of 3,810. The large number bacteria. Consumers also end up with fewer real choices
of cattle on these feedlots generate huge amounts of ma- about how their food is produced.
nure and the feedlots can flood or generate polluted runoff.
Congress, regulatory agencies and state goverments need to
put a stop to the policies that have allowed these facilities
Poultry to proliferate. They must create and enforce farm and food
Almost all eggs are produced on large-scale operations policies that allow farmers to make a living and do not
with hundreds of thousands of layer hens in each facility. harm communities, the environment or public health.
A handful of egg companies produce a large proportion of
Take action: Go to to learn more
the eggs most Americans eat. In 2009, the four largest firms
about factory farms in California and to take action to stop
owned 30.2 percent of the laying hens in production.5 Egg
the spread of factory farms.
production is concentrated in only a few states. Nearly half
the hens in 2007 were located in the top five states, with
19.7 million hens in California. The average-sized Califor-
nia factory-farmed egg-laying operation increased by more 1 USDA NASS. Agricultural Statistics Database. Accessed August 5, 2008.
than a third to 532,000 hens in 2007. Available at; MacDonald, James M.
and William D. McBride. USDA ERS. “The Transformation of U.S. Livestock
Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency, and Risks.” EIB-43. January 2009; Miller, James J.
Chicken meat comes from billions of chickens raised on and Don P. Blayney. USDA, ERS. “Dairy Backgrounder.” (LDP-M-145-01). July
2006 at 7.
large-scale broiler chicken operations where farmers raise 2 USDA NASS. Agricultural Statistics Database.
birds on contract for the few poultry processing companies 3 MacDonald, James M. and William D. McBride. USDA ERS. “The Transforma-
tion of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency, and Risks.” EIB-43. January
that dominate the industry. The scale of poultry farms has 2009 at 12.
grown rapidly, as growers try to eke out a living by increas- 4 Ellis, Shane. Iowa State University. State of the Beef Industry 2008. 2009 at 11.
5 Dr. Shane, Simon. “2008 Egg Industry Survey.” Watt Egg Industry. Vol. 114,
ing the volume of birds they produce. The average-sized No. 3. March 2009.
California factory-farmed broiler operation houses 1.4 6 Taylor, C. Robert. Auburn University. “The Many Faces of Power in the Food
System.” Presentation at the DOJ/FTC Workshop on Merger Enforcement.
million birds, more than eight times larger than the U.S. February 17, 2004 at 6.
average of 168,000. 7 MacDonald, James M. USDA ERS. “The Economic Organization of U.S.
Broiler Production.” EIB-38. June 2008 at 13.
8 American Antitrust Institute’s Transition Report on Competition Policy: Chapter
The poultry companies control every step of broiler pro- 8 Fighting Food Inflation through Competition. 2008 at 304.
9 MacDonald, James M. and William D. McBride. USDA ERS. “The Transforma-
duction — they own the birds from the egg to the grocery tion of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency, and Risks.” EIB-43. January
store. The companies exert tremendous pressure on the 2009 at 7 and 18.
10 Moeller, David. Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG). “Livestock Produc-
farmers that raise the birds, often under abusive contracts tion Contracts: Risks for Family Farmers.” March 22, 2003 at 5.
that dictate to farmers how to raise the chickens and then 11 MacDonald, James M. USDA ERS. “The Economic Organization of U.S.
Broiler Production.” EIB-38. June 2008 at 22, 24.
collect the birds when they have reached their full weight.6 12 Taylor, C. Robert and David Domina. “Restoring Economic Health to Contract
About half of growers only have one or two processors Poultry Production.” May 13, 2010 at 9.
nearby, so they have little choice but to accept whatever
terms the companies offer,7 including requiring significant
upgrades to their farms to secure contracts.8 New broiler
facilities can cost between $350,000 and $750,000 for the For more information:
two houses that most growers use.9 The contracts do not web:
pay more to the farmers to make these required upgrades.10 email:
Many contract poultry growers barely break even.11 Poultry phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) • (415) 293-9900 (CA)
growers lost money for 10 of the 15 years between 1995
and 2009.12 Copyright © January 2011 Food & Water Watch