When rescuers first showed up at a Turlock, California egg-farm, men in hazmat suits were gassing hens and dumping their lifeless bodies onto front-loaders. More than 20,000 hens had already starved to death after their owner decided that he didn’t want to feed them anymore and walked away. Stanislaus County Animal Services finally relented to mounting public pressure, a gathering crowd, and hundreds of phone calls, granting rescuers permission to intervene. Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary and Animal Place were the first on the scene and the last to leave, despite initially being told they could not go in.
Animal Place played a leading role in the rescue. Animal Place showed up in force with a full regiment — almost the entire staff —and devoted its entire facility to helping the hens. Animal Place Executive Director Kim Sturla was on the phone during tense negotiations with the County animal control Director, ultimately tipping the scales to allow people to go inside. The sheer number of hens that were able to be rescued would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication, and resources that Animal Place contributed.
Volunteers worked around the clock to save the lives of over four thousand hens. After a rescue window of only two days, the remainder of the hens were killed by state authorities using carbon dioxide gas chambers. The birds were abandoned two weeks earlier because owner A&L Poultry left them starving to death inside the farm. Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary was first alerted to the unfolding crisis on the afternoon of February 22, and dispatched two rescuers immediately.
“When we arrived on the scene outside the abandoned egg farm, I was horrified at the suffering of the chickens happening in front of me, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the cruelty,” said Anne Martin, Harvest Home board member. “By the next morning, we had partnered with sanctuaries, volunteers from across Northern California, and thousands of supporters following the rescue of these chickens. Together, we were able to save over 4,460 hens who will never again suffer the severe confinement of an egg farm, and from this time forward, will know only human kindness.”
One of the birds who fell in the manure pit after rescue
Onsite veterinarians checked individual birds before rescuers were allowed to load them onto trucks, but amidst the chaos many birds were overlooked. An Animal Place volunteer noticed several live hens languishing in a manure pit underneath the battery cages, and waded into the cesspool to save them. Sixteen hens were saved from the cesspools, and are in the process of recovery at Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary in Stockton. They were thoroughly cleaned, given medical care and syringe-fed nutritional supplements to revive them to full health, and will stay at the sanctuary where they will enjoy open space, sunshine, the companionship of other chickens, and be allowed to live out their lives.
“The scale of this week’s effort is truly ground-breaking. A coalition of committed animal protection groups joined forces with Animal Place and Harvest Home to complete the largest ever farmed animal rescue in the United States,” said Christine Morrissey, Harvest Home Sanctuary Manager. “In light of the immense animal suffering within the walls of this egg facility, we were grateful to make the best out of a horrible situation. We applaud local and state authorities for allowing rescuers the opportunity to provide life-saving relief for thousands of animals on the brink of death.”
One of the rescued hens, enjoying the sun for the first time in her life (Photo:Ian Elwood )
Harvest Home served as a temporary shelter for approximately one thousand hens, providing emergency supportive care before workers from Animal Place and other rescue groups were able to pick them up. The vast majority of the hens — over 4,100 — are now learning to be chickens again at Animal Place, practicing dust bathing, scratching for food, and basking in the sun. If you live in a place where hens are allowed and want to adopt a chicken as a companion, many of the hens will soon available through Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch in Vacaville.
If you live in the region, you can also visit the sixteen hens rescued from the manure pit, once they have fully recuperated, by scheduling a tour of Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary. Harvest Home relies on donations to support the sanctuary residents and continued rescue efforts, so sponsor a chicken today. Volunteers and donations are crucial to support the lifelong care of these animals.
While the rescued chickens begin their new lives, public pressure continues to mount on the former owner. Activists have started a petition to urge the District Attorney to press charges against A&L Poultry owner Andy Keung Cheung for willfully abandoning the 50 thousand hens.
Lead Image Source: The manure pit below the battery cages at the Turlock, California egg farm (Photo: Marji Beach)