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Egg farm kept hens in cruelly overcrowded cages without enough water to drink, investigators say

Birds suffered severe feather loss, raw skin and hernias in farm with ‘revolting’ conditions

Jane Dalton
Thursday 29 October 2020 18:10 GMT
Cages were so overcrowded they breached welfare guidelines the animal-rights group says

Hens were kept in “cruelly overcrowded” cages with insufficient water to drink at a UK egg farm awarded a quality-assurance label, secretly recorded video footage suggests.

Investigators say up to 100 birds were found in one cage, giving them less space than an A4 piece of paper – illegal under animal-welfare laws.

The footage shows many suffering severe feather loss, leaving some nearly bald and others suffering red, raw skin and showing signs of hernias, according to staff at the Animal Equality UK group.

Kinswood Eggs, which is a member of the Laid in Britain quality-assurance scheme, keeps around 320,000 hens, producing 72 million eggs a year, supplying UK wholesalers and local catering companies.

Its site at Horsham, West Sussex, has nine large hen sheds, some stacked with hen cages four tiers high, and containing at least 30,000 birds in each shed.  

In visits across three months, Animal Equality’s investigators said they found conditions causing widespread suffering including:

  • hens forced to live in extremely overcrowded cages, with up to 100 birds in one
  • chicks just days old packed into empty, wire-floor cages that were likely to be painful underfoot
  • decaying hen carcasses left in cages with living birds
  • mice throughout the sheds and toxic rodent poison scattered across floors
  • rotting bird corpses disposed of in bins, attracting maggots and flies

With so many birds to a cage, the number of feed troughs and water drinkers provided appeared likely to fail to meet minimum legal requirements, the activists said. Government welfare codes say hens must be free of hunger and thirst, with access to drinking water.

The regulations also stipulate farm animals must be free of discomfort and pain, and must be able to carry out their natural behaviour. The investigators claim this was not the case at Kinswood.

The Independent has asked the farm for its response to the findings but has not yet received a reply.  

Andrew Knight, veterinary professor of animal welfare and ethics at Winchester University, who viewed the footage, said: “Some of these birds were so tightly packed they would have had difficulty performing highly motivated natural behaviours, such as wing-stretching and wing-flapping, causing stress and poor welfare.  

“Also visible were a chick trapped within the wire of a cage and several dead chickens within cages… predisposing to disease and likely increasing the rodent infestation common within such farms.”

In an interview in 2016, Kinswood’s egg producers said that by adjusint the chicks’ heating, lighting and ventilation they can produce bigger eggs. Animal Equality says “such abnormal conditions are a far cry from a hen’s natural habitat and can have severe physical and psychological effects”.

Abigail Penny, executive director of Animal Equality UK, said: “The conditions we filmed in this ‘quality-assured’ egg farm are, quite frankly, revolting. If you saw rodent poison and decomposing carcasses in a local restaurant there’s no way you would ever eat there again.

“Companies like to paint a picture of happy hens lovingly laying eggs for us to eat, yet they fail to add that around 40 per cent of UK hens are kept in cages. Cages are incredibly cruel – it’s time they’re banned.”

Not all chicks survived (Animal Equality)

An EU ban on barren battery cages came into force in 2012, but many commercial egg-laying hens are still kept in “enriched” cages.

Animal Equality says a ban on cages in Britain would save 16 million hens a year from suffering.  

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