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Environmental Health: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are agricultural meat, dairy, or egg facilities where animals are kept and raised in confinement. Instead of grazing or eating in pastures, fields, or on range lands, animals are given food.

In CAFOs, animals, feed, waste, and production operations are all confined to a small area of land. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that CAFOs made up about 15% of the total animal feeding operations in the United States.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines CAFOs as livestock operations where the animals are confined for at least 45 days in a 12-month period and don’t have access to grass or other vegetation during the normal growing season. In Wisconsin, a CAFO generally refers to a livestock operation with 1,000 animal units, with animal units based on the weight of the animals.

Managing odors, noise, and waste at CAFOs

The concentrated design of CAFOs can pose many challenges, including how to handle animal waste, as well as the associated odors and noise.

If they aren’t properly managed, located, and monitored, CAFOs can cause problems both locally and for the surrounding community. Some concerns include:

  • Changes in air quality
  • Changes in groundwater and surface water quality
  • Changes in land use
  • Changes in the quantity and quality of nearby drinking water wells
  • Damage to local roads from heavy truck traffic
  • Increased odors and noise

CAFO fact sheet

You can find information on CAFO best management practices and the roles various Wisconsin agencies play in our Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Public Health, P-00977 (PDF) fact sheet.

Here are the key messages from the fact sheet:

  • CAFOs are regulated by federal, state, and local agencies.
  • The volume and concentration of animal waste produced by CAFOs requires careful planning, with environmental, human health, and technological considerations taken into account.
  • There are best management practices that control, treat, or prevent pollution, noise, odors, and other problems.

You also can find information in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Understanding Local and State Regulations for New and Expanding Livestock Facilities (PDF) information sheet.

Last revised February 6, 2023