Mapping Factory Farms

Food & Water Watch

Having spent several years working to raise awareness about the problems created by factory farms, I've fielded a whole lot of questions about industrial livestock production – so many, in fact, that I've often considered publishing a pocketsize list of factory farm FAQs.  You know, a little something to inspire lighthearted cocktail party conversation or to use as an icebreaker during first dates.  Instant commercial success, guaranteed.  Anyway, at the top of the list would be the question, “where are these factory farms?”

Surprisingly enough, despite the wonders of internet-accessible government records and powerful modern mapping technology, there’s no easy way to find the exact locations of all the industrial livestock operations in the US.  See, it turns out that the folks who own factory farms – which damage the environment, sicken neighbors and ruin rural communities – aren’t too keen on publicizing their whereabouts.  And government agencies aren’t too keen on undertaking projects that upset Big Ag.

So it was thrilling when Food & Water Watch decided to produce its own factory farm map a few years ago.  But even more thrilling is the fact that FWW released an updated version of the map today, which you can find at  Version 2.0 features a slick new interface, more detailed graphics and, most importantly, inclusion of the latest data!

Since federal, state and local regulatory agencies are often unable and/or unwilling to provide information about the locations of factory farms, Food & Water Watch used the USDA’s Census of Agriculture to calculate the number of mega-livestock facilities in each county.  (As someone who loves to geek out on technical details, I'm excited to report that users can read all about FWW’s data compilation process in the methodology section.)

While the map doesn’t pinpoint the exact address of each factory farm, its county-by-county analysis provides an outstanding visual representation of national and state distribution trends.  It’s also lots of fun to tinker around with; users can filter by species (see where all the hog factory farms are located!), zoom in to the state level (find out how many factory farms exist in your county!) and pull up maps depicting conditions in 1997, 2002 and 2007 (learn how poultry production shifted over the past decade!).

For those who prefer cold hard stats to cartographic imagery, here are some not-so-fun facts from Food & Water Watch’s analysis of the data:

  • In five years, total animals on factory farms grew by 5 million, or more than 20 percent.
  • Cows on factory dairy farms nearly doubled from 2.5 million cows in 1997 to 4.9 million in 2007.
  • Beef cattle on industrial feedlots rose 17 percent from 2002 to 2007.
  • Nationally, about 5,000 hogs were added to factory farms every day for the past decade.
  • The growth of industrial broiler chicken production added 5,800 chickens every hour over the past decade.
  • Egg laying hens on factory farms increased by one-quarter over the last ten years.
  • Over a decade, average-sized layer chicken operations have grown by 53.7 percent to 614,000 in 2007.

Hopefully this compelling depiction of the agricultural transition from farm to factory will ultimately inspire dramatic change in our food system.  In any event, I'm pleased to note that it provides the answer to the first question of my forthcoming Factory Farm FAQ pocketsize reference guide:

Q: Where are factory farms located?

A: See