A preliminary hearing began Tuesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court for two people facing animal cruelty charges that stem from the discovery of an estimated 50,000 hens left for dead at a ranch outside Turlock.
Andy Cheung and Lien Diep are each facing a charge of animal cruelty and the preliminary hearing is being held to determine if there is enough cause to hold them over for trial.
On Feb. 21, 2012, Deputy Timothy Wester with Stanislaus County Animal Control Services went to A&L Poultry at 9501 S. Carpenter Rd. after receiving a complaint that hens were being mistreated at the ranch.
Wester testified Tuesday that at the ranch he found two barns full of hens, many of which appeared to be starving and many others that were already dead.
Wester's testimony as to what he observed at the ranch painted a grisly scene. He testified that along the walkways he saw “piles of white carcasses that weren’t moving or breathing.”
He also said that many of the cages had both live and dead chickens inside and that it appeared the live hens, for lack of food, had been eating on the dead hens.
“They’ll eat whatever is available to them,” Wester said.
Wester also described the bottom level of the barns as being filled with a “soupy” mixture of urine and feces that was about four to six inches deep. He also said he saw several dead chickens in the mixture.
Wester testified he spoke with Cheung, who told him the hens had stopped laying eggs and that he was in the process of changing out the flock. When asked about the feeding schedule for the hens, Cheung did not give Wester an answer, according to Wester’s testimony Tuesday.
Diep told Wester that the chickens were scheduled to be euthanized and that she believed they had last been fed on Feb. 16. Wester testified the troughs used to feed the chickens were empty.
At the time of the discovery, Stanislaus County Animal Services Executive Director Annette Patton referred to the abandonment as the worst case of animal cruelty the county has ever seen.
Earlier testimony revealed the company had been having problems with salmonella and were not able to sell any of the eggs being produced by the hens.
Of the estimated 50,000 chickens found at A&L Poultry, more than 20,000 were dead of starvation or drowned in the manure pits under the cages. Another 25,000 were euthanized because the damage to their bodies was too great. Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary rescued about 5,000 hens, an effort that was documented in the film “Turlock.”
A civil suit brought by the animal rights groups has been settled, with a stipulation that bans Diep and Cheung from ever working with animals again.
Cheung and Diep face up to three years in prison and fines up to $20,000 under California Penal Code section 597(b), which prohibits the act of depriving any animal of proper food, water or shelter. In addition, the law makes it a crime to inflict needless suffering or unnecessary cruelty upon any animal.
Testimony is scheduled to resume today.