Animal rights activists accuse farm of breaching animal welfare laws

Animal rights activists accuse farm of breaching animal welfare laws

Animal rights activists accuse West Sussex farm of forcing its caged hens to live in space smaller than A4 sheet of paper – in breach of welfare laws

  • EXCLUSIVE & WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT: Footage reveals packed cages
  • Animal rights activists have accused a farm of over-crowding its laying hens 
  • A complaint against the farm – Kinswood Eggs in West Sussex – has been filed 

A battery egg farm has been accused of forcing its caged hens to live in a space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper – in breach of animal welfare laws.

Animal rights activists investigating Kinswood Eggs in West Sussex say they found cages crammed full of at least 100 hens that measured 118inch (300cm) by 60inch (152cm) – or 70inch2 (456cm2) of room per bird. This is 70 per cent of the size of an A4 sheet.

Undercover footage, shot at the farm and published today exclusively by MailOnline, reveals birds scrambling over each other’s featherless backs inside the cage as they struggle to find adequate room.

A complaint has been filed with the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) by organisation Animal Equality. They also allege the birds had inadequate access to nest and litter boxes, and had no access to legally-required claw shortening devices.

Although the majority of the eggs purchased in Britain are free range or organic, many companies are still using battery farmed eggs to make products where they are used as an ingredient such as cakes, cookies and ready meals. Consumers can check the labels on items to establish whether they contain free range or organic eggs.

Kinswood Eggs has not responded to repeated requests for comment from MailOnline.

Animal rights activists have accused Kinswood Eggs in West Sussex of over-crowding their battery hen cages. Pictured above is a cage on the farm

Investigators said they found that in one cage each bird had 30 per cent less space than required by animal welfare regulations. Pictured above is a cage on the farm

Investigators said this was one of the cages they found to be overcrowded. Each bird had only 70 per cent of the size of an A4 sheet of paper in which to move around 

Animal rights activists went to the farm three times between June and September this year where they documented the conditions the birds lived in as they fledged from day-old chicks to laying hens.

In the batch of newly released footage, tiny chicks are shown cheeping madly as they scramble across wire mesh to food containers. One is shown lying on its side with its feet against the side of the cage. It is vibrating with every breath – a clear sign it is in pain, according to experts.

When the activists returned in July they found feathered point-of-lay hens squawking as they scrambled over the desiccated corpse of a cage mate. The body appears to have been in the cage for some time, which would be a violation of animal welfare laws requiring dead animals to be removed promptly.

When activists visited the farm for the third time in September they found laying hens in cramped cages stacked in four-cage high rows. Many had lost most of their feathers, possibly due to the heat, stress of the conditions and aggression from cage mates.

In one clip a hen is shown pecking the bald skin of another hen, which would cause the birds considerable pain and stop feathers from growing back.

Footage also reveals activists measuring cages and counting hens inside them. It also reveals nest boxes inside the cages – and it can’t be ruled out that scratching areas were not behind them.

Battery hens were allowed more space under EU regulations, but these did not outlaw the practice

The investigators also filmed small chicks in  rearing cages. The birds spend several weeks in these before they are old enough to lay eggs. A dead chick is shown on the floor of the cage

The small chicks are forced to live on wire netting and will stay in a confined space for their entire lives. Animal investigators took the photo shown above

What are the space regulations for battery hens? 

Battery hens – or those living in so-called enriched cages – are meant to each have at least an A4 sheet of paper’s worth of space.

The Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says ‘laying hens must have at least 97inch2 (750cm2) of cage area per hen, 90inch2 (600cm2) of which must be usable’.

They add that each bird must have ‘access to a nest’ and ‘litter such that pecking and scratching are possible’.

The regulations for the welfare of farmed animals, published by DEFRA, state ‘laying hens must have at least 97inch2 (750cm2) of cage area per hen, 90inch2 (600cm2) of which must be usable’. They add that each bird must have ‘access to a nest’ and ‘litter such that pecking and scratching are possible’.

Professor Andrew Knight, head of the Centre for Animal Welfare at the University of Winchester, told MailOnline after viewing the footage that the birds were experiencing ‘serious welfare problems’.

‘Some of these birds were so tightly packed they would have had difficulty performing highly motivated natural behaviours such as wing-stretching and wing-flapping, causing stress and poor welfare,’ he said.

‘Ongoing aggression is likely when chickens are chronically stressed in this way, causing the feather loss (from pecking) clearly visible in numerous birds. This would have been exacerbated by the barren environment in which these chickens were housed, devoid of most aspects of the natural environments of chickens, and preventing highly motivated natural behaviours such as foraging in leaf litter.

He added: ‘Also visible were a chick trapped within the wire of a cage, and several dead chickens within cages. Failure to remove carcasses in a timely manner is unsanitary, predisposing to disease, and likely increasing the rodent infestation common within such farms.’

Abigail Penny, who leads Animal Equality, said: ‘Just days after birth, these fragile chicks are packed into wire cages and locked away for life. Companies like to paint a picture of happy hens lovingly laying eggs for us to eat, yet they fail to add that around 40 per cent of UK hens are kept in cages. Cages are incredibly cruel – it’s time they’re banned.’

She added: ‘The conditions that we filmed in this “Laid in Britain” certified egg farm are, quite frankly, revolting. If you saw rodent poison and decomposing carcasses in a local restaurant there’s no way you would ever eat there again.’

When the investigators returned to look at the chicks after they had grown up they found pullet hens – or hens before they start laying eggs. The desiccated carcass of a cage mate was photographed on the floor of one of the cages

DEFRA said: ‘There is specific and strictly enforced legislation to protect the welfare of all poultry, which every operational farm must comply with.

‘We take all potential breaches of animal welfare laws very seriously and investigate all allegations. Where welfare regulations are breached, appropriate action is always taken.’ 

Kinswood Eggs did not respond to MailOnline’s repeated requests for comment.

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