To meet the high global demand for meat, we slaughter more than 70 billion land animals for food each year. This already high demand continues to rise globally, meaning that we cannot meet anywhere near our current demand without resorting to factory farming.

Regardless of whether animals are raised for meat, dairy or eggs, whether they spend their short lives in large intensive farms or small family farms, some practices remain common across all industries. Castration of pigs and calves is standard practice and is usually performed without anesthetic. Similarly, piglets often have their tails cut off to prevent other pigs from chewing them in the stressed, overcrowded living conditions they endure. Chickens often have part of their beaks seared or cut off for similar reasons, as birds are known to peck and even cannibalise each other when subject to the extreme stress of their conditions. Cows and goats are sometimes bred without horns, but those who are not can be dehorned, with a curved knife or with a hot iron. This is an extremely painful procedure, whether performed with the traditional hot blade or more modern infra-red cutting.

If you’ve lived in or even passed through the countryside, you’ll know that despite the prevalence of factory farming, some animals are left to roam and graze, more or less as they have been for thousands of years. For cows and sheep, this is often the most economical option, at least for half of the year. For pigs, chickens, and turkeys, however, life is very different. Most poultry birds in intensive farms are kept either in battery cages where they cannot even turn around or, as is often the case with so-called ‘free range’ or ‘cage-free’, in large windowless warehouses with thousands of other individuals. Free-range animals must have access to the outdoors, but it does not have to be all year round, and it can often be nothing more than a small patch of dirt behind a wire fence. The average slaughter age of broiler chickens is around six weeks old, and organic is usually around eight weeks.

Similarly, the vast majority of pigs are factory-farmed, and most spend their lives in cramped, overcrowded conditions. The use of gestation crates for pregnant sows is standard practice, this large metal apparatus keeps the mother pinned on her side, so she can provide milk to her piglets without ever being allowed to meaningfully interact with them or even stand up. Pigs are packed in such a stressful environment that aggression and tail biting are common. To combat this stress behaviour, pigs usually have their tails cut off – a practice that the National Hog Association still describes as ‘essential.’ Pigs can reach slaughter weight as early as four to six months old. For many pigs, the first time they ever see the sun is when they are packed tightly onto a truck and transported, often long distances and in all weather conditions, to meet their deaths before they reach adulthood.

Many people assume dairy and eggs involve much less suffering than meat, but this is seldom the case. Like all female mammals, cows must be impregnated before they produce milk. To achieve this, cows are usually restrained and forcibly inseminated. Naturally, this milk is meant to feed their calves, however, to take her milk, farmers usually separate calves from their mothers shortly after birth, a process which can cause extreme distress.

Cows are known for being particularly maternal animals, connections between mother and calf are strong and immediate, meaning that calves being taken from their mothers can result in prolonged depressive states. While female calves will usually join their mothers on the milk production line, male calves do not produce milk and aren’t considered to be as profitable for beef production, so they are often killed or sent for veal production. Due to the close bond between mother and calf, it is not uncommon for mothers to quite literally scream for their calves, sometimes for days. They are usually put through this agonising process three or four times before they are considered spent, and are killed.

Chickens raised for their eggs are generally sourced from large hatcheries. These hatcheries exist solely to provide laying hens, which means that male chicks, similar to male calves, are not considered profitable. They are almost always killed the day they are born. The industry standard procedure is to sort the males from the females after they hatch, and drop the males onto a conveyor belt, to be fed into a large machine sometimes referred to as a macerator, where they are ground up alive. The females will usually live a further 12-18 months as egg-laying hens.

In most commercial operations hens will be kept in constant bright light to manipulate their egg-laying cycles. These facilities are usually extremely cramped, so it is standard industry practice to cut or sear off portions of their beaks to prevent pecking or cannibalising due to stress and boredom. This also prevents the chickens from engaging in their most basic natural behaviours, including foraging and grooming. To maximise profits, many hens are raised in the minimum required space of 600 square centimeters of usable space per bird, which is less than the size of an A4 piece of paper. When a hen’s egg production begins to slow, she too will be killed.

Many people who choose to avoid meat and poultry still consume fish, often out of some notion that fish are somehow less important than the rest of the animal kingdom, or that they do not suffer as mammals or birds do. Fish, contrary to popular belief, are sentient beings who do experience pain. Recent research tells us that fish are highly intelligent beings, capable of complex communication and cooperation. Despite their intelligence and capacity for pain, fish are not protected by animal welfare laws. Whether caught by line or net, most fish caught will suffocate, which causes extreme stress and pain before death.

It is not only fish who are killed by the fishing industry, for every one pound of fish caught intentionally, up to five pounds of unintended marine animals are caught and discarded as by-catch. This is because most fishing equipment is non-selective, so it catches many non-target species, including sharks, seabirds, dolphins, whales, and porpoises. In the US fishing industry alone, an estimated 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises die from entanglement in fishing nets each year, making this the largest cause of mortality for small cetaceans. Many of these species are facing extinction as a result. For these reasons, many believe that fish farms represent a better option, however, these farms crowd fish in unnatural settings, with waste products including feces and dead fish being flushed into surrounding waters. These captive fish must also be fed, requiring 37 pounds of feeder fish per one pound of commercially sold farmed fish.

It is tempting to think of these as the sole issues that effect animals farmed in intensive settings, however, even those animals raised on small farms usually end up in the same slaughterhouses as their factory-farmed counterparts. Slaughter methods vary, but a captive bolt pistol shot into the head, followed by having their throats slit while still alive is standard industry practice for pigs, goats, and cows. These are not exceptionally cruel methods used by just a few, cruel facilities, but represent the best-case scenario for most farmed animals. A great deal of undercover footage exists to suggest that, due to high slaughter speeds and intense pressure on workers, many animals are still alive and conscious while being dismembered on the production line. Chickens endure similar fates, usually being dragged through electrified pools before having their throats slit, while hanging upside down on a conveyor belt.

Even animal products that do not require slaughter are still acquired through exploitation and therefore are not in keeping with vegan ethics. Honey is a good example of this. Even though honey can be harvested without killing bees, they are often cruelly treated by the honey industry. It is standard practice for most commercial operations to take most, if not all of the honey bees produce and replace it with a sugar syrup substitute. When harvesting, beekeepers often use smoke to disorient and panic bees; though not common, some will even burn entire hives during winter to reduce costs. Even in cases where animals are not being directly killed, they are still being exploited for profit, as their labour is being used for the benefit of others rather than themselves.