Factory Farmer or Faithful Farmer?

I asked around a bit in social media circles last week looking for a definition of Factory Farm as it pertains to cattle.  I was curious given that I had just read Fast Food Nation and had Mr. Schlosser’s description pretty clearly imprinted on my mind.

An aerial view of my feed yard...

An aerial view of my feed yard…

Here is a list that I gathered of the general specifications of a cattle factory farm:

  • The cattle live in dirt pens.
  • The cattle are fed by a tractor or some other type of machinery with the feed placed in feedbunks.
  • The cattle are fed corn or some derivative of corn in addition to forages.
  • There are more cattle per acre than in a pasture grazing situation.
  • The higher concentration of cattle produces an odor or smell.
  • The farm is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation).

My feed yard fits each one of those specifications.

I am concerned that an ever growing number of people believe that any animal that lives on a Factory Farm is abused and has a terrible life.  Additionally, many also believe that a Factory Farmer (someone who works on a factory farm) either has no integrity or is being unhappily forced into working there.

Dartmouth College graduation with my husband and my brother: just a week before going to work at the feed yard...

Dartmouth College graduation with my husband and my brother: just a week before becoming a “factory farmer”…

I certainly hope that I have not spent the last 16 years of my life sacrificing my integrity, abusing my animals, and teaching my children to hate our farm…

I feel a God-given need to offer good care to my animals.

I feel a God-given need to offer good care to my animals.

I feel a relentless drive to raise safe and healthy beef which I feed to my family as well as to yours...

I feel a relentless drive to raise safe and healthy beef which I feed to my family as well as to yours…

I feel a responsibility to care for the natural resources that make up our farm: to use them wisely so that they can be both productive and beautiful...

I feel a responsibility to care for the natural resources that make up our farm: to use them wisely so that our land can be both productive and beautiful…


I feel a passion to work for constant improvement so that my animals prosper and do their job of growing beef…

I share

I feel a desire to share my hard work and values with my daughters so that they learn to appreciate their food and what it takes to grow it…

I believe that my life is one of beauty and devotion.  Perhaps if those that coined the term Factory Farming really understood me, my family, and my farm I would instead be called a Faithful Farmer…

What do you think?


Filed under CAFO, General

39 responses to “Factory Farmer or Faithful Farmer?

  1. Anne,
    Except for the CAFO statement, just weaning our own calves and feeding them makes my family a factory farmer too. It is always interesting to put a question out there and discover what people really think.

    Great job Ag-vocating the Faithful Family Farm idea.

    • Thank you, Robyn for adding to the conversation. I always enjoy hearing from you and appreciate your willingness to share about your farm to further enlighten other readers.

      I hope that all is well!

  2. Barbara Attaway

    Hello Anne. I like your blog (Just accidently found it) and wanted to say I appreciate your “life of beauty and devotion” as you put it because I love beef!!! I lived for a while up in the Texas Panhandle. It was the most beautiful place I have ever lived in my 65 years on Earth. Truly God’s country. I’m sure Nebraska is just as beautiful. I came to enjoy the “smell” of the feedlots and with the wind blowing as it constantly does there, sometimes that smell really … gets around! Well, keep up the good blogging and I’ll check in sometime. I love farmers…..don’t you think everyone should??? After all, y’all feed the world! Thanks again. Barbara Attaway, Houston, TX

    • Hi Barbara,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! I hope that you will continue to follow my adventures. I also want to thank you for your support of farmers–it truly means a lot to me to hear positive comments from all of the folks that love to eat beef.

      I actually have never visited the Texas Panhandle but it is on my bucket list. I would love to tour one of those larger feed yards in that area. I am sure that it is as much “God’s Country” as Central Nebraska.

      All the best to you and many thanks for your feedback and support!

  3. cowdoc lana

    A while ago I asked Paul Shapiro (HSUS Vice President, Farm Animal Protection) to define “factory farm” – he either could not or would not but he and HSUS continue to use the term.

    The term “factory farm” was first used by Ruth Harrison in her 1961 book “Animal Machines” – she asked the question “How far have we a right to take our domination of the animal world – in degrading these animals are we not in fact degrading ourselves?”

    In terms of animal welfare her concerns were related to housing and management that (IMHO) certainly needed to be examined – battery cages, veal crates, deficiency diets, permanent tethering, slatted floors, keeping animals in dim light or darkness.

    Clearly the original intent and issues in her book, as well as the terms used, (while drawing attention to practices that could be improved or perhaps should be eliminated), have been permuted and exploited (for financial gain) by HSUS.

    And I will admit that after viewing yet another undercover video the response of agriculture and veterinary organizations “we condemn this action” begins to ring hollow – how many times can we condemn something before the word is meaningless?

    I do not mean to imply that there are areas in animal agriculture that could and should improve, and just because we always did it that way doesn’t mean it is good or right or the best for the animal (it doesn’t mean it is bad or wrong or not good for the animal either). We need to consciously evaluate what we do and remember that the animal we raise for food are living, breathing, sentient creatures (not cogs or widgets in a wheel) that deserve a good life – a life with living. And at the end of the day, if we have treated all our animals with dignity and respect, provided them with what they need in terms of food, water, shelter, physical, social, and emotional comfort then it has been a good day for all on the farm.

    • As always, Doc, I love to hear your thoughts. I also love your commitment to always work for the betterment of our animals and our farms. I know that no matter how good I am, that I can always get better and I love to hear that sentiment from other cattle caregivers.

      Thanks also for the history data relating to the term–it is always good to know language/term history as you try to understand current uses for the words.

      All the best,

  4. Bobbi

    By those definitions of a factory farm, our cow/calf operation classifies as a factory farm. We use modern equipment to increase our efficiency and use our feed resources more efficiently. Our cows spend some time in smaller pastures and lots during calving so that we can keep a better eye on them and make sure every single calf born has the best chance of surviving and to stay healthy. Drought has forced us to feed more harvested forages and reduce the number of days the cows can graze summer pasture to maintain a healthy ecosystem. I think your term of Faithful Farmer is much more accurate description of who we are. Last night as I didn’t get much sleep while taking care of our new born son, my husband got even less sleep while he spent most of the night in the barn with several new born calves as the howling winds kept the temps in the single digits. Thanks for your dedication to promoting who farmers are and how we should be defined!!!

    • Bobbi,

      I remember those days of being up in the middle of the night with babies! My youngest daughter is now 8 and I do not know where the years have gone…Enjoy those times 🙂 I am glad that your husband can help out with the animals while you are taking care of your new son. “Maternity time” was always a challenge for me and usually resulted in my dragging the kids around with me at the feed yard. My husband did a great job helping out and I wouldn’t have gotten through it with out him.

      Thanks for commenting and helping with the conversation. I really appreciate hearing from you!

  5. I really, really hate the term “factory farm”. Our animals are not assembled piece by piece, and they do not come from a factory. I agree, with Robin – by most of those terms our calves are also from a factory farm. They live in a dirt lot. They are more condensed than on pasture. They are fed in a food bunk. They eat corn. Heck, even our cows (20 cow/calf pairs on 80 acres of pasture) eat corn and are fed in a food bunk. You better believe we use a tractor to help – I would like to see someone feed a large round bale without the use of a tractor or truck?!

    When people not involved in agriculture label something a factory farm they forget to stop and realize that these things are not black and white. They want to believe in “evil” factory farms and “good” family farms and nothing in between, when reality is most all operations are a combination of both.

    • Those are very wise words, Jamie. You are so correct that most cattle farms/ranches are a combination of both. I believe that it is so important for us to talk about what we do and try to dispel the “myth” of the factory farm. It does not matter what type of beef farm you have, it is people that care for animals not factories.

      I know that I shouldn’t let it bother me, but I just cringe every time that my farm is called a factory.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. T Larson

    I enjoy your blog but usually stay away from commenting for some reason; this question brought a response from me tho. Try not to spend too much time worrying about other peoples perception of you. It is impossible to truely judge someone else’s industry, livlihood, life, heart, etc and even more impossible to attain perfection (society, family, farm, etc.). Society’s eagerness to believe otherwise is false and a modern day “tower of babel” impossibility. Just take care of yourself and if you feel in your heart you are doing your best, that’s all the really matters. The legal channels put in place to regulate all aspects of your operation (wetlands, polution, erosion, animal condition, etc.) already expend enough time and energy to keep you between the lines. The progression of farming into efficient production “factory” is necessary and a blessing, otherwise NYC would starve to death. Efficiency “factory” is a good thing and one of the best forms of conservation. The rest will take care of itself and is out of our control anyway. That’s what I think for what it’s worth. P. S. After reading my answer again, it struck me that it is a response that for the most part may be predictable and advice that isn’t new, but I think good (if you think it is) advice can never be heard too much! Take care!

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful words of advice. I really appreciate hearing from you. You are very correct, if my heart is true then I shouldn’t let it bother me. Most days I can be that way, but there are times when it weighs on me. One of the reasons why I wrote this post is that it helps me to deal with it to put it on paper. I appreciate all of you for reading and supporting me.

      It is good advice—thank you for sharing and for understanding.

      All the best,

  7. iowafarm

    I guess I think that perhaps you worry too much about what people think. If you are doing a good job, then so be it! Being on the defensive all the time doesn’t do our image any good!

    • Thanks for the comment, Iowa farm. I am sure that I worry about it more than I should. That being said, I do think that it is important that we talk about the terms and issues that affect our farms and our businesses. Being labeled as a “factory farm” affects beef customers’ perception of where their beef comes from. This affects the “image” of my product and makes people less likely to purchase it. For this reason, it is important to me.

      Perhaps I am a bit defensive, I’m afraid that I am human! I appreciate your input and I agree that defensiveness is not a positive influencer.


      • cowdoc lana

        Anne – I think it is human nature to be a bit defensive – after busting our butts all day and much of the night in the cold, windy, icy miserable weather to make sure our cattle are comfortable and well cared for, that they have food and water and dry bedding and a place out of the wind, to make sure all the calves are accounted for, that their creep area is well stocked, after checking the pregnant cows in the middle of the night with Carharts over PJs – I will admit that I get a little testy too when someone I don’t know, who doesn’t know me or what I do or how hard I work to provide a life worth living for my cows makes some remark about “factory farms” particularly if they cannot define the term….

  8. I don’t see your post as being defensive, so much as it is educational. I appreciate seeing so many from the farmer;s side getting into the media to bring awareness that counters the propaganda that is circulated by organizations with an agenda that hides like a wolf in sheeps clothing. Great job!

    • Hi Denise,

      Thanks so much for your support! It is great to hear from you and I am very glad that you find my posts educational. I also agree that there is a great amount of misinformation that circulates, and hope that I can paint a more accurate picture of what occurs at my feed yard.

      Again, thank you for your support.

    • iowafarm

      I checked out your website….awesome paintings!! Just awesome!

  9. I think you do a great job of providing a new perspective and education to people who otherwise would not know better. I really enjoy what you post about and the education I get on good animal care. I apperciate that even though you have a feed yard, you strive to provide your animals with as good a life as you can before they go on to feed the world. I apperciate that you care about the animals you raise. I am glad you care enough to educate others about good feed yard care and good animal care in general. It makes me want to be a better caregiver too 🙂

    • Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I am so glad that I inspire you! And, I always appreciate your support. It is good to hear from you and hope that all is well back East 🙂


  10. Rex

    You are one of my favorite Consciencous Farmers and I look forward to reading your blog.
    I started today by watching a TED lecture by Alan Savory on youtube. It was quite enlighting and the people who follow his holistic principles are very consciencous and observant and that I think is a mighty influence on their success.
    Factory farm critics will not recognize that what American Farmers do is the result of over a century of carefull observation by consciencous scientists and innovators adopted and adapted by careful, frugal and insightful smart farmers and ranchers.

    • Rex,

      It is my hope that identifying the term, and then being open and transparent about my farm will enable a better understanding. Having the conversation is so important. As you mention “progress and science” are so very important to both the care of our animals and the sustainability of our farms.

      I always try to remember that being open about how I care for my animals can hopefully lead to more trust and ultimately an acceptance of how I raise beef. Changes in technology and science are constant–it is explaining these advances and building relationships that lead to understanding.

      Thank you for reading and being such a great supporter.

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  12. Stacy Christensen

    My husband and I feel much the same way you do. We are frowned upon for the way we raise our pigs. Keep up the good work.

    • Stacy Christensen

      While telling of this story to my husband, he said, ‘why can’t we call them Large family farms!?’ 🙂

      • Hi Stacy,

        Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I would certainly place my farm in the “large family farm” category, and my family holds what we do very close to our hearts.

        All the best,

  13. Mark

    By that definition there would not be a single farm that is not a “factory farm”. Every hog farm I’ve worked on, big or small, uses the same practices for herd health, nutrition and housing (for the most part). It does irritate me when people who have no clue about what we actually do on the farm throw in their 2 cents. My wife manages the farrowing where she works (for and with family) and pours her heart and soul into caring for the sows and baby pigs. She takes our 3 children in and they help her care for them. She works for family and takes our children in to help so it sounds to me like a family farm and not a “factory farm”. Most people who throw around the term “factory farm” don’t realize that the majority of farms are still family owned and operated no matter how big or how small. When I had a town job some of the city people actually thought that Pioneer, Dekalb or any other seed corn sign meant that Pioneer or Dekalb farmed that ground. All I could do is laugh and try to explain why they were wrong. That’s why we need more people like yourself who are willing to take in the misconceptions about what we do on the farm. If we let those that don’t know or understand why we do what we do then we will end up being regulated into doing things the wrong way only to be forced to go backwards. I think the biggest problem we have with our image as farmers is that too many people have this romantic vision of ma and pa farming a couple hundred acres and raising a few head of cattle and pigs with chickens running around the yard. That image would take us back to the 40s or 50s. Everything has progressed over the years and became bigger and more efficient and farming is no different.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for reading and sharing. I would add that I believe that those of us involved in the “food production community” have not historically done a very good job reaching out to our customers and sharing our lives (and the production of their food) with them. It is this “relationship gap” that allows for misconceptions to prevail. I hope that others will begin to do outreach so that we can rebuild trust with those that purchase our products.

      I would share with you this other post that I wrote some time ago on this topic https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/its-not-about-the-trailer/. Hopefully it will also speak to you.

      All the best,

      • cowdoc lana

        It’s not about the trailer was one of my favorites! While I agree that we (this is a generic “we”) have not always done a good job of explaining what we do and why to the general public (who after all are the consumers), the moral circle (of concern ie the boundary drawn around those entities in the world deemed worthy of moral consideration) has expanded over time – and now to many people it includes the animals we raise for food. Consumers have concerns about some of the things we do and some of the things we do need to be reevaluated and improved. There was a time when the vast majority of people, including veterinarians, did not believe that cattle felt pain – we now know that their nervous system is very similar to ours and that while they may express their pain differently than do humans they have the capacity to feel pain. This requires a change in mindset – not only (for example) should we disbud/dehorn dairy calves early in their life, we should provide some sort of pain relief. The consumer recognizes that the animals we raise for food are sentient beings – they want to know that we care about them and that they had a life worth living.

  14. Nicely stated! I don’t think explaining what you do is defensive at all. We farmers live in a world driven by policies created by people with little understanding of what we do, or how and why we do it. There will always be room for more patient, reasonable, and thoughtful explanation… just like tending a farm, the job of communication is never done. Thanks!

    • Hi Chris,

      I agree that the “job” is never done. I tell my daughters that it does not matter how good you are, you can always be better! I think that applies to all of us—in everything that we do. A good conversation is based on trust and respect and involves true listening. I know that I still need to work on this, and think perhaps that everyone could benefit from working on developing this skill.

      Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment.

  15. What a great blog post – and good comments to ponder as well. I just shared this link with someone (in my own family, of all things) that automatically equates a big farm with an evil farm that has no regard for animal treatment whatsoever. Obviously I disagree. Thanks for writing this – I am not sure she will even look at your blog post, but I can hope!

    • Glad that you enjoyed the post. Thank you for reading and sharing! This is an incredibly misunderstood topic and I hope that I can at least provide some level of clarity. Our country has a very diverse set of farms, and we farmers need to do a better job of explaining them so that we realize a higher level of transparency with our customers.

      Again, thanks for reading and sharing.
      All the best,

  16. Kat Karma

    I found your blog via The Truth About Agriculture and love reading it. As usual, activists for the most part use graphics that suggest something other than the truth (like beautiful produce when warning about GMOs – even though there isn’t GM produce). Whenever they describe factory farms and CAFO’s they use pictures of operations with thousands of cattle crammed together in muddy yards, as far as the eye can see. What are these operations, where are they and do they actually really exist?

    • Hi Kat,

      I am so glad that you enjoyed the post. Please feel free to sign up to get an email when I post so that you can continue to follow the blog!

      I agree that sensational photography paints an misguided picture of farming. While we as a beef community are not perfect, it does get frustrating to see our farms inaccurately and negatively portrayed. I hope that my blog can help to increase transparency and trust.

      All the best,

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