The Evolution of Factory Farming


When did factory farming begin? My weekend visit to the Catskills Animal Sanctuary (love!) got me thinking of when “battery” farming—the all-too-common practice of growing too many chickens in too small spaces—began. After all, before populations significantly increased, there would have been no economic incentive to produce more meat. Some googling suggests that factory farming really took off in the mid-twentieth century with the development of antibiotics that would attempt to undo the harm inherent in raising animals in appalling conditions.  

The technology that would enable battery egg farming, however, was in the works much earlier. The 1878 The American Poulterer’s Companion, an extensive treatise designed to inform poultry farmers on the set-up and care of their livestock, records how in China and Egypt they had long used lightly-heated ovens. In Europe it seems to have been attempted as early as the late 18th-century, but by the 1800s, as this book describes, European countries and the U.S. developed their own ingenious ways to hatch eggs sans the inconvenience of mother hens. The French developed the use of this hot-water apparatus:


    [boiler (a); box or building (b) for hatching eggs; a cage or coop (c) for rearing the chickens; tubes (d) for circulating the hot wateR; a supply tube (h) and funnel (e) and safety tube (f)]

In Pall Mall, London, the Englishman M. Bucknell exhibited his invention, a hatching oven called the Eccaleobion (from the Greek, eccaleo, to call forth, and bios, life). The Eccaleobion was not popularly available. This one ran more for exhibition—at 25 cents a person—than for mass production. It consisted of a “room on one side of which is a large oblong case placed against the wall, divided into eight parts, each one of which is warmed by steam pipes, and which are used for hatching the eggs” (Bement 181).  Delighting in his improvements on nature, Bucknell (in a Treatise on Artificial Incubation) suggests that his apparatus is a way of efficiently harvesting God’s bounty:  

“It must have struck even the most superficial observer, that the extraordinary fecundity of gallinaceous fowls is a wise and most benevolent dispensation of nature, to provide more abundantly food for man; as in those tribes of birds not suited to his table, the female lays no more eggs than she can incubate” (Martin 48). 

(!!!) Capable of ‘bringing forth’ more than two thousand eggs, and of hatching a hundred daily (Farmer’s Register 614), the Eccaleobion proved man’s power over nature. (A power especially proven, history suggests, when men can control reproduction. The National Organization for Men Against Sexism, with the wonderful acronym of NOMAS, has compiled a short but telling list of examples.)  

The texts I found contain plenty of language that illustrates the belief (and pride) at man’s ingenuity. Of a New York egg-hatching machine—another hot water-based apparatus—the writer describes how it was capable of “bringing out the little chickens with all the punctuality of an old hen” (Bement 181).  


The baby chicks from the English machine would be moved to a coop or box, “with a flannel curtain and covering, where they rest with as much quietness as under the wing of the mother” (Bement 181). M. Reaumur is credited for inventing one of many “artificial mothers” that would provide warmth to growing chicks.   Who needs the actual, living hen?


Human technology was not just like Mother Nature, butbetter.The two-thousand-egg-capacity Eccaleobion, “unlike the parent bird, never addles the egg” (Farmer’s Register). The line of “artificial mother” apparatuses would allow for chicks to “enjoy a perpetual summer, exempt from all exposure to rain or to cold nights” (Bement 183).

The author of the American Poulterer’s Companion was obviously torn between competing interests. On one hand, he was concerned about humane treatment of animals (e.g., he says it is “cruel” to deny a hen who is “really determined to sit” and counsels farmers “not to be too greedy” [Bement 175]). On the other hand, he is seduced by the wonder of artificial hatching. Conflicted, he comforts himself with the thought that while nature’s way is generally best, chickens were now outside of nature’s laws: “the domestic fowl is in an artificial state, and deviations from the laws of nature are, therefore, to be expected” (Bement 174).

The author was most wrong, however, when he questioned whether such machines would “ever become general” (Bement 178). According to Wesleyan University, 98% of eggs today come from battery-farmed birds.  


Sources (via Googlebooks):

“Artificial Incubation, The Eccaleobion.” Farmer’s Register 7. Petersburg, Va.: —-, 1839. 614. Bement, C.N. The American Poulterer’s Companion. NY: Harper & Brothers, Pubs., 1878. Martin, W. Our Domestic Fowls. London: The Religious Tract Society,1799?.

Making Curiosities of the Chinese

Predictably, A Pictorial Geography of the World (1840, S,G. Goodrich, Boston; via Googlebooks) is more than a little bit racist in its studies of non-Western peoples. As the animal welfare movement became an important marker of “civilization,” the nineteenth century also saw an intensification of the use of human-animal relationships as a way to critique other cultures.  

Framing this image is the following: “The principal article of food is rice, which is eaten with almost every sort of victuals, but in the north corn is more used. The Manchoos eat horse-flesh, and the lower classes, who are miserably poor, and often suffer from famine, do not refuse the most loathsome vermin…. Edible bird’s nests, which consist of some sort of gelatinous matter, tripang or sea slug, shark fins, and fish maws are among the luxuries of the Chinese table;opium, although forbidden by law, is much used. Dogs, cats, and rats are eagerly sought after by the poorer classes, and puppies are constantly hawked about the streets, to be eaten….

And well, what would a fine Englishman, swept up with the idea that his country was to be thanked as the pioneer of the humane movement, possibly expect from a dog-eater?

“When China was first explored by European travelers, it was believed to be a nation that had alone found out the true secret of government; where the virtues were developed by the operation of the laws. A greater familiarity with the Chinese has destroyed the delusion, and their virtues are the last subject for which they can claim any praise. Few nations, it is now agreed, have so little honor or feeling, or so much duplicity and mendacity. Their affected gravity is as far from wisdom, as their ceremonies are from politeness….”

 Last year, when Obama was linked to the despicable heathen practice of dog eating, his opponents were tapping into a long history of vilifying The Orient through their relationships with animals.

Attack of the Killer Bees?


Bees are not “savage” creatures. By law.

According to Earl v. Van Alstine, 8 Barb. 630 (1850), defendant beekeeper could not be held liable for the death of plaintiff’s horse, stung by the defendant’s bees. Concluding that bees are “domesticated,” not “savage” nor “ferocious,” the Court found that the defendant was not negligently unleasing “savage” animals on his fellow man(’s horse). 

More on this case here.

From Digest of New York Statutes and Reports by Benjamin Vaughn Abbott and Austin Abbott, Vol. 1. New York: Baker, Voorhis & Co., 1874.

Puns Intended.

I’m back from holiday, with interior decorating ideas inspired by animals.


Buhl is a French style of furnishing. 

Or how about a practical and decorative way to seal those snail mail letters that you’re writing every afternoon? 


(You know, a wax seal. That looks like a seal.)

And the next time there’s a black-out, you will be very glad you got these:



(You know, a candle taper. That looks like a tapir.)

I would have been first in line, coins in hand to buy these essential items, but alas, it was all in satire by “Puck,” of the magazine by the same name, who is in fact ridiculing the very notion of blaspheming against Art.   

From: “The Fine Arts, as Applied to Domestic Purposes” in Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art, Vol. 10 (Jan.-June 1852). Philadelphia: John Sartain & Co. (via Googlebooks)