The Stanislaus Animal Services Agency received a call by a concerned citizen late Tuesday regarding a property at 9501 S. Carpenter Road, just west of Turlock, where an estimated 50,000 abandoned chickens were left without being fed for about two weeks. An estimated 17,000 chickens were found dead upon arrival.
Annette Patton, Executive Director of the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency, explained that her agency seized the property, rented to A&L Poultry and took control over the animals on Tuesday and responded on Wednesday. Upon arriving at the egg farm, an estimated 17,000 chickens were found dead as they were destroyed out of their cages inside the buildings.
“Words cannot describe what we saw,” said Patton.
Multiple agencies responded on Wednesday to assist in the clean up and humanely euthanize any chickens that were too ill, including the County Public Works Department, County Environmental Resources, and County Animal Services. Patton said that the California Poultry Federation and Pacific Egg and Poultry Association (PEPA) have been big supporters while handling the incident.
“We are shocked by this incident and do not condone the mistreatment of any living thing,” said John Segale, spokesman for PEPA. “As soon as we were made aware of the situation, California’s egg farmers immediately began working with the with California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Stanislaus County Ag Commissioner and Animal Control to help alleviate the situation and do what is best in the interest of hen welfare.”
California Poultry Federation President Bill Mattos said that while his organization mainly deals with the meat side of the industry but definitely was concerned.
“The industry does not condone this type of action from any company, that’s why we came to help” said Mattos.
Patton said that state veterinarian Randy Anderson reported that none of the initially tested chickens were found to be diseased.
“That was tested the very first day, that’s a good thing,” said Patton.
The dead chickens are being taken to the landfill.
While the number of chickens that died in this incident was high, there was a little bit of good news on Thursday.
“I guess with the pure numbers that there is a little bit of light of sunshine today when the rescue groups were able to take away some healthy chickens,” said Patton.
About 1,000 to 2,000 chickens were diagnosed as healthy enough to survive the starvation incident. On Thursday, about 500 chickens were released to rescue groups and efforts to save the rest of the chickens will continue on Friday.
According to Patton, the owner of A&L Poultry, Andy Keung Cheung, could possibly face criminal charges of Animal Cruelty and Animal Neglect.
Patton said that officials have only spoken to Cheung briefly and that he is represented by an attorney.
Segale and Mattos both said that they did not know Cheung and that he was not associated with their industry’s organizations.
“He is not a member of either the Pacific Egg and Poultry Association or the Association of California Egg Farmers, the two leading industry organizations in the state,” stated Segale.
According to both Patton and Mattos, the reason for leaving the chickens to starve to death appears to be due to a lack of ability to afford to feed the chickens.
“Basically it comes down to lack of funds to provide the feed, unfortunately,” said Patton.
“This has only happened one other time that I know of from another company years ago who basically stopped feeding their chickens because they didn’t have enough money, so I’m assuming that’s what happened,” said Mattos. “Which we think is outrageous.”
Mattos explained that ethanol subsidies caused the worst year for his industry as far as the price of feed goes. Corn prices increased so much that in 2011 feed prices went up almost 100 percent from 2010.
“Good managers resolved it even though the lost money,” said Mattos. “But some farms went out of business, primarily because of the devastating cost of corn.”
Segale explained that while 50,000 chickens seems to be a large number with the general public, in regard to a commercial egg farm, 50,000 hens is actually considered a small farming operation.
California’s egg farmers produce more than 5 billion eggs a year with Stanislaus County producing 387 million eggs in 2010, according to Segale.
Mattos said that there are 38 million boiler chickens on the ground at any one time in the central valley, from Fresno to Sacramento, and that there are 300 million chickens a year being raised.