Factory Farms Decreasing in Number, But Increasing in Size: 20 Percent Growth in 5 Years

Despite small but significant signs that the country wants to move in a different direction, factory farms across the country are growing at an unprecedented rate—not in number, but in size.


An analysis of census data from the USDA by Food & Water Watch has found that such farms grew by 20 percent in the years between 2002 and 2007 (2007 had the most current census data available). That's faster than either of the two preceding five-year periods.

But it's not that more factory farms are springing up—it's almost the opposite. The growth is measured in total livestock numbers—so although the number of livestock farms in the U.S. has actually decreased, according to Food & Water Watch, the number of livestock has increased, which means the industry has continued on its path away from small-scale farming and toward a monopoly-like concentration.

Specifically, Food & Water Watch says in a press release, "the number of dairy cows and broiler chickens nearly doubled during the same time, making them the fastest-growing population of factory farmed animals."

And the environmental and health damage is not distributed equally—as concentration of factory farming increases, so do the effects felt by the particular regions located near these farms. Food & Water Watch has released an interactive map that illustrates the geographic shift in where factory farms have been concentrated and in how food is raised in the U.S., and an accompanying website with a newsfeed on the issue and that ranks the top concentrations of factory farmed livestock nationwide, by state and by county.

Some of the highlights from the Food & Water Watch findings:

  • Cows on factory dairy farms nearly doubled from 2.5 million cows in 1997 to 4.9 million in 2007. Factory dairy farms growth in western states like Idaho, California, New Mexico and Texas shifted the dairy industry away from traditional states like Wisconsin, New York and Michigan.
  • Beef cattle on industrial feedlots rose 17 percent from 2002 to 2007 - adding about 1,100 beef cattle to feedlots every day for five years.
  • Nationally, about 5,000 hogs were added to factory farms every day for the past decade.
  • The growth of industrial broiler chicken production added 5,800 chickens every hour over the past decade.
  • Egg laying hens on factory farms increased by one-quarter over the decade.

Check out the Factory Farm Map to learn more.

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