Given the growing concerns over human and animal health issues related to confined animal feeding operations, an in-depth examination is required to monitor for airborne bacteria and associated antibiotic resistance genes. Our 16S rRNA-based pyrosequencing revealed that the airborne microbial community skewed towards a higher abundance of Firmicutes (> 59.2%) and Bacteroidetes (4.2-31.4%) within the confinement buildings, while the office environment was predominated by Proteobacteria (55.2%). Furthermore, bioaerosols in the confinement buildings were sporadically associated with genera of potential pathogens, and these genera were more frequently observed in the bioaerosols of pig and layer hen confinement than the turkey confinement buildings and office environment. High abundances of tetracycline resistance genes (9.55 × 10(2) to 1.69 × 10(6) copies ng(-1) DNA) were also detected in the bioaerosols sampled from confinement buildings. Bacterial lineages present in the poultry bioaerosols clustered apart from those present in the pig bioaerosols and among the different phases of pig production, suggesting that different livestock as well as production phase were associated with a distinct airborne microbial community. By understanding the diversity of biotic contaminants associated with the different confinement buildings, this study facilitates the implementation of better management strategies to minimize potential health impacts on both livestock and humans working in this environment. © 2012 Society for Applied Microbiology and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.