Fight Cruelty

Farm Animal Cruelty Glossary

pig standing at fence

Animal Cruelty: Acts of cruelty include but are not limited to abuse, neglect and abandonment. For prosecutorial purposes, the meanings of these terms differ from one jurisdiction to the next. Farm animals are often the victims of cruelty, and factory farms, where nearly all farm animals in the U.S. are raised, have normalized some of the worst and cruelest abuses. While every state has a cruelty law protecting companion animals, most states exclude either farm animals or certain common, yet cruel forms of farm animal husbandry.

Battery Cage: A wire cage roughly the size of a file drawer in which up to 10 egg-laying hens are housed. These cages are arranged in rows and stacked several levels high. This system of production has been outlawed the European Union (effective 2012) and by California (effective 2015) and Michigan (effective 2019). ASPCA position statement on Housing for Laying Hens

Beak Blunting: The use of abrasive materials in egg laying hens’ feed troughs to gradually blunt their sharp beak tips. This is a non-stressful method to reduce the cannibalism and possibly feather pecking that is common among frustrated, intensively confined birds. More research is necessary to evaluate the welfare and production impacts of this method as an alternative to debeaking.

Branding: The practice of burning or freezing an identifying mark onto the body of an animal using an extremely hot, or extremely cold, iron stamp, or “brand,” pressed into the animal’s flesh for several seconds. Branding is typically performed without anesthetic. Ranchers use brands to distinguish their cows from those owned by others.

Castration: Castration of male pigs and cows is a routine agricultural practice that seeks to tame animals, alter their fat ratio, and control the taste and smell of meat from male pigs. It is a painful procedure, commonly performed without anesthesia. 100% of piglets and 88% of beef calves raised in the US are castrated. Piglets are castrated by surgical removal of the testes following scrotal incision. In sheep and cows methods include surgical removal, crushing the blood and nerve supply using clamps, cutting off circulation with rubber rings or latex bands, and injecting chemicals into the scrotum. Immunocastration—the injection of hormone suppressants—offers a potential alternative to these painful procedures. ASPCA position statement on Physical Alterations

Debeaking or Beak Trimming: A process that involves cutting or burning through bone, cartilage and soft tissue with amechanical blade, hot blade, electric currentor infrared laser to remove a portion of the upper and sometimes the lower beakof a chicken, turkey or duck. No anesthetic is administered. This measure is taken to reduce the excessive feather-pecking, fighting and cannibalism seen among stressed, overcrowded birds in factory farms. Alternative: beak bluntingASPCA position statement on Physical Alterations

Downers: Farm animals who are too sick or injured to stand or walk unassisted. ASPCA position statement on Downed Animals

Electric Cattle Prod (or Hotshot): A device that delivers an electric current to an animal. Commonly used with livestock, it is used to stimulate movement in animals. When animals are poked with the electrified end, they receive a high-voltage, low-current electrical shock. The short shock is not strong enough to kill a large animal, but is enough to cause pain. ASPCA position statement on Handling and Worker Training

Factory Farm: A large, industrial operation that treats farm animals like commodities without regard for their well-being or capacity to suffer.With the exception of some cattle operations, factory farms confine animals in densely packed spaces where they can barely move, have no access to the outdoors, and spend their lives in cages and pens or on open floors in large, warehouse-like buildings. These conditions limit their ability to engage in natural behaviors, causing illness, injury and severe mental frustration. Most farm animals also suffer a series of painful surgical mutilations, without anesthetic, meant to make them more manageable in their poor surroundings. Factory farms also require massive inputs of water and fossil fuels and are a leading cause of air pollution and water pollution. Learn more.

Farrowing Crate: A metal-barred crate in which factory farms confine female breeding pigs while they birth and nurse their piglets. Farrowing crates restrict sows from turning around or taking more than one step in any direction. Sows spend two to three weeks nursing their piglets; when their piglets are taken from them, they are placed back in a gestation crate to begin another cycle of impregnation and four-month long pregnancy. ASPCA position statement on Farrowing Crates

Feed Lot: A type of concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) used in factory farming, particularly with beef cows. Animals are taken off pasture and placed in pens that are often overcrowded, unsanitary and offer no shelter from weather. There, they are fed a high-calorie diet for three to six months prior to slaughter. This unnatural diet causes rapid weight gain and fat storage, but has a variety of health implications, including acidosis (acid indigestion) and eventually rumenitis, resulting in painful ulcers and liver abscesses. To counter the unhealthy conditions and increase growth, the cows are regularly given antibiotics, hormones and other drugs.

Foie Gras: The engorged liver of a duck or goose. To make this pricey gourmet “delicacy,” ducks and geese are force-fed enormous quantities of corn mash two to three times daily via a pipe inserted down the esophagus. This forces the bird’s liver to grow up to 10 times its normal size, creating risk for rupture, infection, difficulty breathing, and a painful death. The process typically lasts up to three weeks, until the birds are slaughtered and their livers harvested. ASPCA position statement on Force-Feeding

Forced Molting: A process by which egg-laying hens’ bodies are shocked into producing a final cycle of eggs. Various methods are used, and generally last up to two weeks. These include food deprivation, water deprivation, light manipulation and/or nutritional deprivation. ASPCA position statement on Underfeeding

Gestation Crate: A 2’ x 7’ concrete-floored and metal-barred crate in which factory farms confine female breeding pigs during their four-month pregnancies. Gestation crates prevent sows from turning around and engaging in a wide variety of other natural behaviors. Just before giving birth, the sows are removed from their gestation crates and placed in a similar-sized farrowing crate for birth and nursing. After a few weeks of nursing, sows have their piglets removed from them and are placed back in a gestation crate for another pregnancy. ASPCA position statement on Sow Gestation Crates

Heritage Chickens/Turkeys: Slow-growing birds who come from genetic lines established prior to World War II that, unlike almost all commercially available chickens and turkeys, have the genetic ability to live healthy lives outdoors. Unlike heritage breeds, modern chicken and turkey breeds are genetically selected for accelerated weight gain and disproportionate body shapes, causing them to grow beyond their skeletal capacities. This leads to chronic leg pain, deformities, lameness and heart failure.

Neglect: The failure to provide an animal with appropriate food, water, shelter, veterinary care, and opportunities to engage in natural movements and behaviors. Neglect is a widespread problem on factory farms, which often house thousands of animals in a single shed, making it difficult for workers to monitor each one’s health. Further, most farms offer no individualized veterinary care, preferring to let animals linger and even die rather than spend money on treatment.

Rose Veal: Some veal calves are fed solid food and are allowed additional movement in group pens (though sometimes only once they reach a certain age). These calves are known as “grain-fed” or “non special-fed” calves; they produce meat known as “rose veal” as it is darker in color than traditional “white veal.”

"Spent Hen": A hen who, after one to two years of producing eggs at an unnaturally high rate for the egg industry (and often having been force-molted), begins laying fewer eggs. No longer profitable for factory farms, she is slaughtered.

Subtherapeutic antibiotics: Also called “non-therapeutic,” the use of antibiotics at low doses to increase the daily weight gain of animals and decrease illness and morbidity. This practice is employed to compensate for poor animal husbandry, including confined and unsanitary living conditions, and the feeding of an unnatural diet. The routine use of subtherapeutic antibiotics in animal agriculture is contributing to resistant strains of food-borne illnesses such as Salmonella and E. coli, threatening both animal and human health.

Tail Docking: The process of removing a portion of an animal’s tail. Pigs and dairy cows, among other animals, are often tail-docked. Anesthetic is generally not used. Various methods are used. For cows, the most common method involves tying a rubber band or similar ligature around the tail, cutting off blood supply until the tail atrophies and falls off. For pigs, a common method involves simply cutting off the end of the tail. ASPCA position statement on Physical Alterations

Veal: The flesh of young male calves born to dairy cows. Dairy cows are not of a breed that produces meat efficiently, so rather than be raised for beef, male calves are often slaughtered after only a few weeks of life; their meat is marketed as veal.

Veal Crate: A narrow, wooden stall with slatted floors in which a male calf being raised for veal generally lives for six to 22 weeks. The calf may be tethered to the front of the stall by a chain or cord around his neck. He is prevented from engaging in many natural behaviors such as suckling, turning around, lying down with his limbs fully extended, and socializing with others. ASPCA position statement on Veal Crates

White Veal: The traditional type of veal consumed by Americans, also known as "formula-fed", "special-fed" or “milk-fed.” This meat is very pale and fleshy—a condition achieved by unnaturally restricting veal calves’ exercise and diet. Calves are traditionally confined individually to two-foot-wide wooden crates to restrict movement and therefore muscle growth. They are fed an iron- and fiber-deficient diet, inducing anemia so their flesh will remain pale.