Family-owned farms feed the world, and while some may have grown to be large scale, they should never be called factory farms

Ever since Ruth Harrison published Animal Machines in 1964, some activists and journalists have been keen to criticize modern farming methods and have compared farms to factories. However, the words machines and factories have no place in animal farming.

Around the globe, countless family farms feed the world and the egg sector is testament to this. It is worth summarizing some the key points that may be used when accusations of being factory farmers are leveled at egg producers.

Family through and through 

The egg sector is dominated by family enterprises - owned and operated by families and often started by a single person with a real vision. This is the case for Pace Farm, the largest egg farm in Australia, the Diamond Group in Bangladesh or the Wadi group in Egypt. 

While Cal-Maine Foods in the U.S., the world largest egg producer with 43.5 million hens, is now listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, it was founded by a visionary individual whose family members are still active in egg production.   

Advertisement

There are always great stories behind how these family farms came into being. The owners of Burnbrae Farms, Canada’s largest egg farm, switched to egg production after a family member raised 50 pullets from day-old-chicks as part of a high school project in 1943. This convinced the family to abandon dairy production and move into egg production. 

Size and scale

Along with the family ownership of egg farms, the average size of these enterprises is far from what activists would like the public to believe. 

Data from the International Egg Commission, the trade body that represents the egg sector with members in over 80 countries, reveals that the average size of a farm is under 50,000 hens in most countries.  

Amongst the top egg producing Member States in the European Union, the highest average number of layers per farm is in Poland at 45,384. Turning to Latin America, specifically Argentina, Chile and Colombia, then the highest average is in Argentina with 50,500 hens. 

For many years, China has been living proof that it is possible to produce a lot of eggs with many, many small farms. Until about 10 years ago, the average farm size in China was 5,000 hens, yet the country was able to produce about 24.3 million metric tons of eggs. If you do the math, it means that China had about 270,000 family egg farms.