[Originally published: October 11, 2016]
What is a factory farm? Is it a 5,000-acre grain farm supporting 3 families? Is it a 40 head dairy cattle operated by a dad his son? Is it a poultry farm operated by a family of five who contract out through a corporation who will sell the chicken in the store?
The term “factory farm” seems to have originated from the non-agriculture public and media about large farms in today’s agriculture industry. The only issue is that there is no real definition of a factory farm. A factory farm in some eyes are having over 20 animals in a herd, while others see it as large rows of buildings housing thousands and thousands of livestock.
But is there such a thing as a factory farm?
Many of the large farms seen from the flatlands of the Midwest to the hills of Texas are large FAMILY farms. Does this make them a factory farm? No. There are plenty of large farms in the country that might house more than 1,000 pigs, to help provide for two or three families.
Is that a factory farm? Somewhere with multiple families and generations raising livestock to help make ends meet? No. That is families trying to make ends meet. With lower margins than in years previous, families have to increase their farm size to help put food on the table.
What about my family? We farm 40 miles south of Downtown Chicago in one of the first farm towns south of the suburbs. We farm around 3000 acres of grain crop and milk around 75 dairy cows. To put an acre in perspective, one acre equals about the size of one football field.
Does that sound like a large farm to you? By some standards, it definitely is. However, let’s break down the numbers.
Three families are provided for on this farm. My family, along with my grandparents and uncle’s family all depend on the farm for income.
We depend on the farm to pay for fuel to get the kids to soccer practice.
We depend on the farm to keep the lights on to study for the next big test in school.
We depend on the farm to keep life moving, just like everyone else relies on their job and income to pay the bills.
Does that make our farm a factory farm? I don’t think so. Just like every other family, we work hard to make money and provide for the family. We go past the bar, with every single member being active on the farm and helping with whatever that could be. Whether its running someone to a tractor, or helping out with feeding calves, the entire family helps out when needed on the farm.
So is that large farm you see on the side of the road a factory farm? No, it probably isn’t, because it is probably a family or two working hard to make ends meet.
Illinois State University