Two Turlock poultry farmers are now facing felony animal cruelty charges after leaving 50,000 hens to starve.
Andy Cheung and Lien Diep were arraigned Monday on the charges in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
If convicted, they could face up to three years in prison and $20,000 in fines.
Animal welfare workers who found the abandoned hens at A&L Poultry near Turlock a year ago said the birds had not been fed for two weeks. More than 20,000 were dead and 25,000 were euthanized.
Stanislaus County Animal Services Executive Director Annette Patton called it the worst case of animal cruelty the county has ever seen.
About 3,500 of the surviving hens were sent to rescues, with the majority transported by the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society to Animal Place, a farm rescue in Grass Valley. Three of the sanctuaries have since filed a civil suit against Cheung and Diep seeking financial recompense for caring for the hens.
Defense attorney Martha Jane Carlton-Magana said no pleas were entered because one of the defendants faced a family emergency. Pleas are expected March 11.
The lawyer said the men had been working to properly euthanize the birds and had given the flock to a third party.