In February 2012, authorities in Turlock, California walked into the abandoned egg-laying facility of A & L Poultry and discovered 50,000 hens that had been abandoned without food and left to die. Some 20,000 of the hens had already starved to death. Others had drowned in giant manure pits beneath their cages. 25,000 more had to be euthanized to end their suffering.
Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary stepped in to rescue the remaining 5,000 birds. The next morning, volunteers from the three sanctuaries arrived at the scene.
They focused on getting birds out from sheds the size of football fields that each held 25,000 hens. Cage after cage of birds crammed together.
The whole day hens were gassed (euthanized) at the other end of the building. As a volunteer explained, “you just have to put it out of your mind. We’ll help as many as we can. That’s the hardest thing, knowing you can’t save them all…but it matters to the one that you can. In terms of rescue, that is the principle I live my life by.”
At six that evening, the state veterinarian said: “no more.” There weren’t any more savable hens. And yet, in the first barn, volunteers suddenly saw a bird walking towards them. The hen stumbled outside, then wandered, dazed, back into the barn toward the manure pit. They were able to net this last bird and bring it to safety.
In all the rescuers saved about 4,650 pale, dehydrated, and starving birds.
Egg-laying hens receive no federal protections, although California voted to ban cruel battery cages like those at A&L Poultry. That law goes into effect in 2015.
The Legal Case
Representing the sanctuaries, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and Schiff Hardin sued the owners of the egg farm to hold them responsible for their cruelty.
The hens stuffed in battery cages at A & L Poultry had been denied their ability to engage in natural behavior. Their cages were so small they couldn’t even open their wings. Their beaks had been cut off (without anesthetic) to prevent pecking. Finally, A & L Poultry had abandoned these hens like disposable garbage.
Although factory farms are rarely held accountable for the immense suffering they inflict on animals, ALDF’s lawsuit aims to place responsibility on the people who caused the pain and distress to tens of thousands of helpless animals—and compensate the sanctuaries who took them in.
The farmers sought to have the case dismissed, but on December 5th, the Stanislaus County Superior Court rejected the farmers’ arguments, and sided with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, ruling in favor of the three sanctuaries, and allowed the historic lawsuit to proceed, based on the largest rescue of farmed animals in California history.