Animal Management

Animal Management (2014)

Animal herd management and housing varies depending on climate, topography, the type of animal and the producers’ interest and inclination. While some producers pasture their animals, which permits them to engage in natural behaviors such as rooting (hogs), scratching (chickens), and consuming forage and insects, other producers employ confined settings where the environment can be controlled so that the animals are not temperature-stressed, exposed to predators or disease vectors, and where product uniformity can be achieved through a prescribed diet. For these producers, technology has enabled them to raise more livestock with less labor on less land.

Almost all beef cattle are now being fattened on feedlots. While feedlots with less than 1,000 head of cattle are still in the majority, they “finish” only a small percentage of cattle. Lots with 1,000 head or more finish 80 to 90 percent of U.S. cattle, and the few feedlots with 32,000 head or more account for around 40 percent of cattle.

Even greater consolidation has taken place in the dairy sector. While the number of cows kept primarily for milking dropped from around 24 million in 1940 to about 9 million in 2000, milk production rose steadily as a result of more efficient milking technology, advances in animal nutrition and health, as well as biotechnological interventions in breeding and pharmacology. Similar consolidation has taken place in the management of hogs and of poultry.The EPA defined an AFO (animal feeding operation) as one in which the animals are confined and fed for 45 days or more in a year and the food for the animals is not grown on the site. The EPA defines a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) as an AFO with potential to impact water supply, either as a result of size (number of animals housed) and/or impact on proximate surface water.

The EPA estimates that there are about 450,000 AFOs in the U.S., with about 15% of those designated as CAFOs.

Production efficiencies realized in concentrated animal systems have increased the national supply of inexpensive, readily available meat. Efficiencies of scale, capital-intensive new technologies for breeding, feeding, and processing; pressure from global competition; and consumer demand for uniform, convenient, inexpensive meat products all point to the continuing need for concentrated, consolidated animal management. Biogas experimentation suggests that aggregated animal waste could be an important new source of biofuel, potentially adding more economic incentive to further consolidation.

Questions have been raised about the impact of CAFOs on local communities, specifically water and air pollution. A 2010 report funded by the National Association of Local Boards of Health found significant impacts on surface water (rivers, ponds, lakes), including “pathogens…growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood” and more. The same study documented noxious odors and dramatic increases in air-borne insects (primarily flies and mosquitos). A Pew Trust review of CAFO community impacts cited higher incidence of asthma and neurobehavioral issues (from chronic exposure to air-borne compounds toxic to the nervous system) resulting in depression, anger, fatigue, confusion, etc.

It’s not surprising that there is a reduction in property values near large-scale feeding operations. What may be surprising is that the income from large agricultural operations mostly leaves the local community while income from small farm operations tends to circulate money within the community.

[Information from Overview of Agricultural Subsidy, Animal Management, and Antitrust Enforcement, LWVUS website at, as well as Economic Health of the Agricultural Sector, LWV of Montgomery County, MD]

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