Overview of “Humane” Meat, Dairy & Eggs

Pig being transported to slaughter. Photo: Toronto Pig Save

Pig being transported to slaughter.
Photo: Toronto Pig Save

As the public grows increasingly aware of factory farm cruelties, many consumers are removing animal products from their diets, or purchasing them from companies that advertise improved animal welfare.

Others similarly turn to smaller or local farms, believing that animals on small farms are not subjected to cruel practices.

Unfortunately, many of the abuses inflicted on animals in conventional factory farms are also standard practices on small and higher welfare farms.

These standard procedures include:

Below is general information about the processes involved in the production of meat, dairy, and egg products, even on farms with higher welfare (or less cruel) practices.


Routine mutilations commonly inflicted without anesthesia or pain relief on many small and humane-label farms that raise animals as food sources include:

Castration (pigs, cows, sheep, goats); video: castration of calf on small Amish farm

Ear Notching (pigs, cows, goats); video: Animal Welfare Approved ear notching of piglets

Dehorning/Disbudding (dairy/meat cows, goats); video: disbudding baby goats for dairy

Nose Ringing (pigs); video:humane” technique; common small farm technique

Debeaking (chickens, turkeys); video: standard debeaking technique

Learn more about the routine abuses inflicted on farmed animals at our Practices page.

Pigs castrated video - the video below shows castration of piglets at Kingbird Farms, which sells its meat under the Animal Welfare Approved label. AWA boasts “the most rigorous humane certification standards for farm animal welfare in the U.S.”

Newborn chicks video – this next video, recently filmed undercover at a “humane” hatchery that supplies a large humane label producer with “meat” chicks, reveals the same cruel practices as hatcheries that supply industrial broiler farms:


Like human mothers, cows only produce milk to feed their babies. Profitable milk production depends upon a constant cycle of impregnating cows to keep them at peak lactation, then taking away their newborn calves for whom the milk is intended, in order for humans to sell and consume it.

About ten months after giving birth, the quantity of milk that dairy cows produce decreases substantially.1 In order to maximize yields, dairy producers reimpregnate cows once a year after a short period of “drying off.”2

Dairy cows are typically killed at four or five years of age. In a natural environment, they typically live 20 years or more.

Dairy cow and calf. Photo: Mercy for Animals

Dairy cow and calf. Photo: Mercy for Animals

Also like human mothers, cows carry their calves for nine months and form strong emotional bonds with them.

In fact, researchers observe that the strongest and most lasting social bonds in cows are between mothers and their offspring, and these bonds persist long after the calves have matured.

Despite this, the USDA reports that 97% of dairy calves are removed from their mothers within 24 hours of birth.

Many calves on certified humane farms are taken from their mothers within the first hour, as separation is supposedly less stressful the less mother and calf are permitted to bond.

Regardless of the timing, separation of cows and their calves is extremely distressing for both. View separation of a cow and calf on a higher welfare, pasture-based farm below.

Separation of cow and calf on small, free-range farm

The veal industry only exists as a result of the dairy industry. Male dairy calves, since they cannot produce milk, are sold to be slaughtered for veal or cheap beef.

Learn more about practices on “humane” dairy farms at our Happy Dairy Cows? page. Find delicious alternatives to milk and other dairy products at our Better Choices page.

See also:

The Spiked Nose Ring: A Symbol For All Dairy Cruelty
A Small Dairy Farmer Addresses Concerns About Separating Calves From Mothers
Sexual Violation of Dairy Cows in 14 Steps
Strange Noises Turn Out To Be Cows Missing Their Calves


Millions of male chicks are destroyed by being ground up alive or suffocated every day in U.S hatcheries. Photo: Animal Equality

Millions of male chicks are destroyed by being ground up alive or suffocated every day in U.S hatcheries.
Photo: Animal Equality

Whether on a factory farm, small farm, or backyard operation, egg production involves the killing of male chicks.

At the hatcheries that supply both industrial farmers and many small-scale egg farmers with laying hens, male chicks are sorted and destroyed because they cannot lay eggs and are not the fast-growing breed used for meat.

Every year in the U.S., more than 260 million male chicks are killed as newborns. Globally, 6 billion male chicks are destroyed by egg producers.

Standard methods include chicks being suffocated in large garbage bags, ground alive, gassed, or sucked through a series of vacuum tubes to an electrified “kill plate.”

Currently all humane certification labels in the U.S. permit their egg farmers to source chicks from hatcheries which destroy newborn males.

Even hens purchased for backyard operations come from hatcheries that kill male chicks.

Female chicks used for egg-laying actually have it worse as they are typically raised in severe confinement and are debeaked, a painful procedure that slices or sears off one-half to two-thirds of their beaks.

debeaked chick

debeaked chick

Chickens’ beaks are complex sensory organs loaded with nerves and touch receptors, much like human fingertips.

The pain and impairment caused by debeaking is so extensive that some birds actually die from starvation.

What is hidden from most consumers is that debeaking is commonly performed on “free-range” and “cage-free” hens as well.

Because humane labels are not meaningfully defined or enforced, egg producers can crowd tens of thousands of hens into windowless sheds for their entire lives and still sell their eggs under free-range and cage-free labels.

These stressful, crowded conditions cause birds to compulsively peck at each other. Producers debeak them in order to minimize carcass damage. Even stores with good reputations, like Trader Joe’s, use suppliers that debeak their hens.

See also:

Debeaking Video Shows Standard Practice on Free Range Egg Farms
USDA Helps Industrial Farms Claim Humane and Con Consumers
My Quest for a Humane Egg


Humane labels mask the reality that even on farms where animals have better lives, they typically experience acute pain, fear, and suffering when they are slaughtered.

It’s noteworthy that most animals raised on small farms end up at the same industrial slaughterhouses as factory farmed animals.

But even for animals slaughtered on-farm, or at smaller processing facilities, killing can be brutal and terrifying.

The video above was filmed with open access to a free-range pastured chicken farm, and depicts typical on-site small farm slaughter methods for poultry.

See also:

Saddest Slaughterhouse Footage Ever Shows No Blood Or Slaughter

Better Choices

The humane farming movement is based on the idea that it is wrong to subject farmed animals to unnecessary harm, but this principle is routinely discarded for increased profits and convenience on even the most rigorous humane-label farms.

Jenny Brown with Ralphie the steer at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Jenny Brown with Ralphie at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Also, killing animals we have no need to eat is the ultimate act of unnecessary harm.

Government health boards in the U.S., Canada, and Australia (to name just a few) acknowledge that humans have no biological need to consume animal products and people at all stages of life (including infants, pregnant women, and athletes) can thrive on a healthy plant-based diet.

Please visit our Better Choices page to learn about delicious plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs that are better for the animals, better for your health, and better for the environment.

See also: