Ian Duncan, Ph. D., Professor of Poultry Ethology
Mercy For Animals
P.O. Box 265
Urbana, Ohio 43078
January 23, 2003
To whom it may concern:
My name is Ian Duncan. I have a B. Sc. in Agriculture (Hons Animals Husbandry) and a Ph. D. in Ethology (Animal Behavior). I have been carrying out research into poultry welfare since 1965, for 20 years at the Poultry Research Center in Edinburgh, Scotland, and for the past 14 years at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. I am a Professor of Poultry Ethology and hold the University Chair in Animal Welfare. I therefore feel qualified to comment on the videotape of caged hens at Weaver Bros. Egg Farm in Versailles, Ohio. I have attached a short curriculum vitae which lays out my qualifications.
I have carefully viewed the videotape and have the following observations.
1. Leghorn-type laying hens are shown in filthy conditions in overcrowded cages. Many of the hens are severely de-feathered. In others the feather are badly damaged and soiled. The level of hygiene is appalling. Feces are caked to the cages and there is dirt everywhere. It is simply unbelievable that a food product for human consumption is being produced here. Apart from the food safety risk, the squalor does have a negative effect on the welfare of the hens (see point 2, below). The overcrowding causes stress and the lack of feathers means that the birds skin is at high risk of injury from pecking and scratching.
2. Many hens have very severe swelling around the head, comb, and wattles. Without proper veterinary inspection and pathology examination, it is impossible to say what is the cause of these. However, they are almost certainly sites of local infection, most probably caused by Staphylococcus species. They are undoubtedly painful, and the hens suffering from them should have been treated or euthanized. Apart from the pain, infections as severe as these will reduce welfare by making the affected hens feel ill. In my opinion, these infections are common at this farm because of the filthy conditions. Any small scratch to the skin surface is at high risk of becoming infected.
3. Some of the hens also have foot lesions. These appear to be hyperkaratosis of the toe pads. This is caused by continual friction, as the foot slips down the sloping floor of the cage. The cages are obviously very old with a steep slope; modern cages have a gentler slope and do not cause this problem. This condition of the feet is painful and is also a route for infection to enter the body. Because of the filthy conditions, these hens are also at high risk of developing bumblefoot, a Staphylococcal infection of the foot.
4. Also on the tape are scenes of trapped hens. This again is a reflection that the cages are old and badly designed; modern, well-designed cages do not trap hens. Hens that are trapped by their wings or feet suffer terribly. The position they are trapped in often becomes painful. They cannot perform normal behavior so they panic and injure themselves through struggling to avoid being pecked and scratched. They often cannot reach the feeder and drinker and so slowly starve to death. This does not seem to have happened on this farm.
5. Many of the cages are shown with dead hens in a very bad state of decomposition. This is extremely unhygienic and puts the whole flock at risk of infection. Of course, the birds in the same cage are at very high risk, but the barn appears to have an infestation of flies that will act as vectors and spread infection throughout the barn. Again, without proper pathological examination, it is impossible to say whey these hens died. However, the likelihood is that they suffered terribly through some disease or injury before dying. Once again, these sick hens should have been spotted during routine inspection, treated or euthanized. At the very least, they should have been spotted when newly dead and their bodies removed and properly disposed of.
6. There are scenes of lots of carcasses lying in pails and shopping trolleys. They appear to be in the barn where the laying hens are housed. This is very unsanitary and exposes the whole flock to high risk of disease. It does show that occasionally dead or dying birds have been removed from the cages. However, it is disgusting that they were not properly disposed of.
7. One or two dead birds are shown lying in the manure pit. I suspect that again this is a reflection of the old cages that have allowed some birds to escape. If birds do end up in the manure pit and are not rescued from there, they suffer a slow lingering death because there is no food or water available.
8. A live bird is shown in a container of dead birds. This bird was obviously suffering terribly. When dead birds are removed from cages, rigor mortis can be used as a sign of death. If rigor has not set in, then it should be assumed that the bird is still alive and it should be treated or euthanized (a skilled poultry worker should be able to dislocate a hen?s neck quickly and painlessly).
In summary, I would say that the scenes depicted on this videotape represent some of the worst cruelty I have seen inflicted on poultry. The level of suffering in this barn is completely unacceptable.
Ian J.H. Duncan
Professor of Poultry Ethology
Chair in Animal Welfare