Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.  CAFOs are industrial-sized animal facilities that have lead to large scale contamination issues across our state.

To be considered a CAFO in Wisconsin the facility must house 1000 animal units which is determined by weight of the animal.  For example a full size dairy cow is considered 1.43 animal units. A ballpark figure (if assuming all animals are mature and of adult weight) would be approximately 700 Dairy cattle, 1000 Beef cattle, or 2500 swine for a facility to be classified as a CAFO.  Additionally, Wisconsin is also home to chicken and turkey CAFOs as well as goat CAFOs.


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Wisconsin citizens’ have a right to clean water, clean air, and a good quality of life.  However all these rights are endangered by water pollution frequently caused by industrial agriculture. Wisconsin’s industrial animal factories generate more manure than crops can safely use as fertilizer leading to excess phosphorus and nitrate levels in the soil and groundwater. As a result, our local streams, lakes, and waterways are quickly becoming damaged beyond repair.

Large-scale agriculture contributes to pollution of Wisconsin’s water resources through leaching and runoff of crop nutrients, pesticides, and animal wastes, and through soil erosion from cropland. Groundwater and surface water issues associated with agriculture are a major problem in Wisconsin, especially in areas and watersheds with high densities of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) with limited amounts of land for manure and wastewater spreading, and in environmentally sensitive regions like the karst areas, the central sands, and the clay plains.

The 2014/2015 Ag Stats bulletin list the following totals for livestock and animals housed in CAFO facilities in Wisconsin.

  • 3.5 million cattle and calves
  • 300,000 hogs
  • 5.11 million layers and 1.45 billion eggs
  • 53.4 million broiler chicken