The Turlock community, and animal advocates around the country, tensely await the next phase of the preliminary hearing to determine if two local egg farmers will go to trial for animal cruelty.
Three years ago, Andy Cheung and Lien Diep abandoned 50,000 hens in cages, leaving them without food for more than two weeks. Around 20,000 hens starved to death. When rescuers from Animal Place arrived, state officials were gassing the remaining birds.
We performed a grueling 48-hour rescue that we later learned was the largest rescue of farmed animals in California history.
Only 4,460 of the hens would be allowed to exit those barn doors alive and transferred to Animal Place’s custody; 4,100 went to our Northern California facility, and 460 to other sanctuaries.
We believe Andy Cheung and Lien Diep should face criminal animal cruelty charges for the abandonment and starvation of these 50,000 hens. We were there. We cradled the destroyed bodies of starved hens as they took their last breaths. We tube-fed and wished desperately those remaining birds, fragile, but alive, would survive.
Many of those 4,460 died. Many more lived. We watched hens feel the sun and walk on the ground for the first time in their lives. It was amazing.
Over the course of a year, the surviving hens found permanent homes through Animal Place’s adoption program. More than 100 with special needs remained at our sanctuary so they could receive professional care.
While many would never recover from the trauma they endured, there are still hundreds of Turlock hens alive today, living in homes and at sanctuaries. There are still more than 40 at Animal Place enjoying nest boxes instead of cold metal floors, who now stretch their wings and roam green pastures.
Their suffering was certainly egregious, but it was not the only misery they endured. To produce conventional table eggs requires a measure of cruelty and abuse that no compassionate consumer would willingly inflict on these birds.
When the hens were only a day old, portions of their nerve-rich beaks were severed off with a laser. Some of the hens we rescued had more than half their sensitive beaks mutilated. This painful abuse is inflicted on virtually all hens used for egg production – conventional cage facilities, cage-free, and even large free-range operations.
These hens lived in cages so small they could not flap their wings. 92-95 percent of hens used for egg production are confined in cages.
You will rarely see roosters on farms supplying eggs. Males do not produce eggs, and grow too slowly for farmers to slaughter for meat. Instead, 150-200 million male chicks hatched annually in artificial incubators are ground up alive.
The hens too are all killed at a fraction of their lifespan. They are less than two years old, and could live another four to six years. In California, no slaughterhouse accepts “spent laying hens,” so most of these white birds are gassed and trashed: that is, they are administered poison gas on site, and then their bodies are dumped in landfills. Brown hens, producing brown eggs, are sold at live-market auctions for backyard or small-scale slaughter.
So while we believe Cheung and Diep inflicted egregious cruelty on these 50,000 hens and should face criminal animal cruelty charges, we recognize that they were part of a cycle of cruelty necessary to produce cheap eggs for consumers. If you think what they did was horrible, remember that the “normal” way of raising hens for egg production is equally terrifying and cruel to the hens.