Confined Animal Facilities in California

Published by the California Senate Office of Research and prepared by Kip Wiley, Nick Vucinich, John Miller and Max Vanzi - Confined animal facilities, sometimes called factory farms, apply industrial production methods (concentrated production, large capitalization and mechanization – all housed in a factory-like facility) to the raising of animals for human consumption.
calendar icon 4 February 2005
clock icon 5 minute read

While this method of intense production farming has produced certain economic benefits – cheaper and more plentiful products – it has also produced unintended consequences. Many of the concerns over confined animal facilities (CAFs) have centered on hog and poultry operations in the southern, eastern and midwestern sections of the United States. CAFs in California are largely confined to dairies, beef cattle feedlots and the poultry industry.

Confining animals in restrictive spaces produces unique responses. Confinement produces unnatural behavior and living conditions. To keep poultry from harming each other, beak tips may be removed. A percentage of animals that experience this procedure die. Antibiotics are routinely administered to counteract the spread of disease that stress and living in close quarters can promote. Light deprivation is used in some cases to promote increased egg and meat production. Male chickens in egg-producing facilities are disposed of by the thousands.

Some dairy cows have their tails docked so they do not interfere with mechanized milking equipment. They are given hormones to increase their milk production – sometimes up to ten times what would occur naturally. Beef cattle can spend up to half of their lives in confined feeding pens with 75 to 200 other head of cattle. Factory farming also produces waste that pollutes surface and groundwater, pollutes the air and harms wildlife habitat. The generation of this waste also impacts human health from the contamination of drinking water with pathogens, to the diminished effectiveness of antibiotics for humans.

Other states, local governments and nations, especially the European Union (EU), have been addressing these issues for some time. California has just begun and is mainly focusing on air and water pollution.


According to the 1997 Census of Agriculture, sales of confined animal species (feedlot beef cattle, dairy, swine and poultry) totaled over $75.4 billion, more than 45 percent of total farm sales. Federal policies that affect the industry’s manure-management costs – e.g., through the Clean Water Act and farm legislation – can have significant economic effects on the livestock and poultry sectors. In addition, a growing number of states are implementing regulations directed specifically at confined livestock and poultry operations.

Farm animal production has steadily evolved from family-farm-sized units to more and more integrated or corporate-sized farm units. This is particularly true for poultry production and more recently for production of swine. The number of beef (fattened cattle) feedlots with over 1,000 animals has stayed relatively stationary.

Constructing larger facilities is more cost-effective on a per-animal basis if not all the external costs are considered. External costs, such as environmental and community effects, are not normally included when the owner of an animal-feeding operation or meat-processing facility calculates the cost of operation.1 Large concentrations of animals grown in confinement generate large quantities of manure or litter.

Beef cattle, dairy cows, swine, broilers (chickens raised for meat) and turkeys are the primary farm animals produced in the United States. With the exception of beef cattle, these animal species are commonly grown in partial or total confinement systems on concrete floors. This means the manure produced can be more efficiently collected. Beef cows are primarily maintained on pasture and not in confinement. The “finishing” of cattle is done on feedlots where they are normally confined on uncovered dirt.

Feedlots generally produce a “dry” manure-soil mixture, which means the material can be handled as a solid. In the United States, much of the controversy over CAFs revolves around the trend in southern, eastern and midwestern states to larger and more specialized hog and poultry-raising operations.

Farm Size

Nationwide, over the last half-century, the number of farms and the total land in farms have decreased, while the size of an average farm has increased. This trend has been less pronounced in California. While the average U.S. farm doubled in acreage between 1954 and 2002, the average California farm increased by about 13 percent.

In 2002, about 80 percent of California farms were less than 180 acres, yet the “average farm” size was 347 acres. These two statistics highlight the fact that a small percent of larger farms account for a large percent of total acreage. These large farms include ranches that graze livestock and that may generate relatively little revenue.

By product sales value, California agriculture is comprised of a large number of small farms, while a small number of large farms represent most of the sales. The 16 percent of California farms with sales of more than $250,000 in 1997 also represented over 90 percent of total sales value. In 1997, almost 44 percent of California farms sold less than $10,000 worth of agricultural products.2


  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Confined Animal Facilities In California
  • Animal Welfare
  • Environmental Effects
  • Confined Animal Facilities’ Effects on Human Health
  • California and Federal Law Related to Confined Animal Facilities
To read the full report, please click here (25 page PDF report).

Source: Published by the California Senate Office of Research - November 2004
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