History of factory farming
Up until the 1900s chickens were kept outside in coops and in backyards by families keeping a small number of hens. Indoor farming was introduced at the start of the last century, when layer hens were first kept in more intensive systems. In the 1930s the invention of new kinds of incubators meant that chicks could be produced in larger numbers by large-scale operations.
After World War II, due to increased demand and specialised breeding, the layer hen and meat chicken became different breeds.
Fast food farming
Factory farming really took off in the 1960s and 70s. As the fast food chain model gained popularity in the United States, it created a desire for huge quantities of cheap products, and New Zealand followed suit.
The business models that transformed food preparation were applied to animal farming itself, seeking efficiencies of production, savings on space and labour and, most importantly, greater profitability. Mass production became the norm, all at the expense of animals.
Antibiotics, genetic freaks and big business
The emergence of these systems was only possible with the development of antibiotics, which enabled animals to be kept crammed together in huge populations without the risk of disease causing high mortality.
Meanwhile, selective breeding for desirable traits like high egg and meat production has led to less robust animals that have an increased susceptibility to disease. Today a modern day layer hen produces 300 eggs per year, compared to just 20 from her wild ancestors, and meat chickens reach ‘slaughter weight’ in just 6 weeks.
Today, the number of animals kept per factory farm has risen dramatically, while the number of producers has decreased. In the late 1980s there were over 450 egg producers in New Zealand. By 2000 only 130 were left, with the largest 20 producers accounting for over 50% of total production.