Several weeks ago, a California egg producer abandoned his farm—and an estimated 50,000 hens—leaving a horrifying mess for animal rescuers who came in to save the survivors. The LA Times reports that authorities said 47,000 of the chickens died, and that the survivors had not been fed in more than two weeks.
Authorities only discovered the hens because a citizen complained about the growing stench. The Modesto Bee reports that the local animal services agency "plans to seek prosecution of Andy Keung Cheung, owner of A&L Poultry, where the hens were found."
The LA Times quotes a woman from one of the sanctuaries that participated in the rescue:
"My heart is in my throat," said Anne Martin, with Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary...
"These are the sicker birds from the group ... most are able to stand on their feet ... they are interested in food, they are drinking but they are not as lively as the other birds, not as enthusiastic," Martin told Fox 40.
The Humane Society of the United States describes more of the scene:
For two days, volunteers from across California answered the calls from Animal Place, Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, and Farm Sanctuary. Volunteers raced against the clock to load the emaciated birds into hundreds of animal carriers, makeshift crates, and cardboard boxes, hoisting them onto trailers and truck beds, bound for better lives at sanctuaries.
These kinds of stories aren't rare, whether it's an isolated incident or ongoing cruelty exposed, so it's easy to tire of reading about them. But their prevalence is indicative of the larger systemic problem.
It used to be standard procedure on huge egg farms to starve hens periodically to force them into another laying cycle. Burger King, McDonald's, Safeway, and others demanded an end to this starvation-induced "forced molting," and the practice was ended by most—though not all—egg producers in the United States.
Many agricultural techniques may be standard today and unforgiveable tomorrow, like gestation crates. Rather than reassuring itself that today's procedures are the best, animal agribusiness should make improvements in animal welfare now, or face the judgment of history.
These tens of thousands of hens had been trapped inside tiny cages with no food or water, and while the sanctuaries will give or find new homes for the couple thousand that were rescued, HSUS says chickens on other farms aren't so lucky. Things could be improving slightly with new legislation, but the larger problem remains. If our consumption patterns demand it, these practices will continue.