Cows | Sheep | PigsChickensFish

60 billion land animals are killed each year1 in order for their flesh to be turned into meat. The majority of these animals are confined to hard wire cages and gestation crates or packed by the thousands into dark, filthy sheds. Animals raised in these intensive farming systems are unable to raise their families, root around in the soil, build nests, or do anything that is natural to them.

Most animals kept on factory farms will not see the sun or breathe fresh air until the day they are transported to a slaughterhouse to be killed.

50 per cent of all the fish consumed each year are now raised on fish farms2, where they spend their lives crammed together, bumping against each other and against the sides of their crowded cages. Unless practices are changed, it is predicted that by 2048 all species of sea fish will have disappeared3 forcing people to rely almost exclusively on farmed fish.

A quarter of all the fish caught each year (27 million tonnes) are thrown back into the sea as waste.4 Birds, turtles and dolphins are also often caught in nets.


JVS - Image of cow on a factory farm.

© Animal Aid

  • Cows in a herd form close friendships with two or three other cows and spend most of their time with these friends.5
  • Researchers have found that cows like the challenge of problem-solving and become excited when they complete a task.6
  • Like humans, cows can hold grudges against other cows for months or even years.7
  • Calves have to undergo the painful procedure of castration.8
  • Calves are disbudded or dehorned.9
  • Many cows reared for beef have no bedding and live on hard slats or concrete.10


JVS image - sheep being transported

© Animal Aid

  • Professor Keith Kendrick, from the physics department at Gresham College in London, found that sheep can recognise the faces of at least 50 other sheep and can remember 50 images for up to two years.11
  • Sheep experience fear when they are separated from their social groups or approached by strangers. Studies show their heart rates increase when they are unable to see any members of their flock and increase even more when approached by strangers.12
  • Professor John Webster of the University of Bristol found that, like humans, sheep visibly express emotions. They show signs of depression by hanging their heads and avoiding positive actions.13
  • Though most sheep are not farmed intensively, they still suffer, for example through inappropriate handling, and extreme weather conditions resulting in pneumonia and hypothermia.14
  • Problems such as lameness and internal and external parasites are common in sheep farming.15
  • Sheep may be transported huge distances to slaughter – some journeys last over 24 hours.16


Sow in farrowing crate ©Animal Aid

© Animal Aid

  • Pigs are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. They can learn their names by 2 to 3 weeks of age and respond when called, just like dogs and cats.
  • The cognitive ability of pigs beats that of 3 year old humans.17
  • Pigs are natural explorers. In the wild, pigs spend over a quarter of their time exploring and often travel up to 15 km in one night.
  • 70% of pigs reared in the UK are farmed intensively in over-crowded sheds that do not allow them to express natural behaviours such as foraging and nest-building.18
  • Pigs can live for up to 10 years but most pigs are killed for food when they are less than a year old.
  • Intensively-reared sows give birth and raise their young in farrowing crates. These metal crates are so small that sows cannot turn around or suckle their piglets. While naturally raised piglets would be weaned when they are 3 months old, piglets on factory farms are removed from their mothers when they are only 3 weeks old.


JVS image - chickens on factory farm

© Animal Aid

  • Chickens communicate using at least 24 distinct sounds, including separate alarm calls that identify different kinds of predators, such as a dog on the ground or a hawk in the sky.19
  • When in their natural surroundings chickens enjoy full lives in which they form friendships and social hierachies, recognise one another, develop pecking orders, love and care for their young, duste-bathe, make nests and roost in trees.
  • Mother hens cluck to their unborn chicks, and the chicks chirp back to their mothers from inside their shells. This establishes communication between them.20
  • The majority of broiler chickens live in large, crowded, windowless sheds with tens of thousands of other birds.
  • Chickens in today’s factory farms grow three times as fast as they did 50 years ago as a result of selective breeding programmes and the use of antibiotics. This method of intensively farming chickens began in the late 1950s when the use of “dual purpose” chickens for egg and meat production came to an end and new poultry strains were introduced specifically for the production of meat.
  • Most birds suffer from painful, crippling bone disorders or spinal defects making it difficult to move, as a result of their fast pace of growth. This can lead to birds suffering skin burns and infections because they become trapped in the mess on the barn floor.21


JVS image - Fish caught in a net

  • Fish have cognitive abilities that equal and sometimes exceed those of non-human primates. They can use tools, recognise individuals and sustain complex social relationships.22
  • According to biologists writing in Fish and Fisheries, fish are “steeped in social intelligence, pursuing Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation, exhibiting stable cultural traditions, and co-operating to inspect predators and catch food”.23
  • Fish feel pain just as other animals do. Dr Donald Bloom, a scientific advisor to the British government, stated, “The scientific literature is quite clear. Anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals”.24
  • When fish are dragged from the water, they start to suffocate. Their gills often collapse, and their swim bladders can rupture because of the sudden change in pressure.
  • Rearing fish in cages prevents their natural swimming behaviour. Fish like salmon naturally swim great distances. Confined in fish farms, they are restricted to swimming in circles around a cage, rubbing against the sides of the cage and each other.
  • Fish as large as three-quarters of a metre long are forced to live in as little as a bathtub of water each.25


  1. FAOSTAT online database: []
  2. “Milestone: 50 Percent of Fish Are Now Farmed”, Live Science, 8 September, 2009. []
  3. “Seafood May Be Gone by 2048, Study Says”, National Geographic News, 2 November, 2006. []
  4. []
  5. “Heifer so lonely: How cows have best friends and get stressed when they are separated”, Daily Mail, 5 July, 2011. []
  6. “Farm animals ‘need emotional TLC’”, BBC News, 18 March, 2005. []
  7. “Cows bear grudges: official. And chickens have needs, too”, The Register, 4 March, 2005. []
  8. []
  9. []
  10. Example: []
  11. “Amazing powers of sheep”, BBC News, 7 November, 2001. []
  12. []
  13. []
  14. []
  15. []
  16. “Scientists Highlight Fish ‘Intelligence’”, BBC News, 31 Aug 2003. []
  17. “New Slant on Chump Chops”, Cambridge Daily News, 29 Mar. 2002. []
  18. “Like a pig in… ”, BBC News, 16 April, 2009. []
  19. “We’re too smart for sausages: Why farm animals aren’t really as dumb as they look”, Daily Mail, 2 July 2010. []
  20. []
  21. “Horror of 200m chickens raised in agony”, Daily Mail, 2 August 2006. []
  22. Culum Brown, “Not Just a Pretty Face”, New Scientist, 12 Jun 2004. []
  23. “Scientists Highlight Fish ‘Intelligence’”, BBC News, 31 Aug 2003. []
  24. Daily Telegraph, 19 October, 1995. []
  25. []

Further Information

Glass Walls

Paul McCartney once said " If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian". Watch Glass Walls to find out why everyone would be vegetarian if slaughterhouses had glass walls.

Meet Your Meat

Actor Alec Baldwin exposes the truth behind the factory farm.

The Suffering of Farmed Animals

Animal Aid secretly filmed at randomly-selected UK farms farms between 2007 and 2010.

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