Chickens Left for Dead at Free-range Egg Farm

NEW ZEALAND - Dozens of dead chickens have been found at an abandoned free-range egg farm where starving birds are suspected of turning to cannibalism.
calendar icon 21 February 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

Citing The Dominion Post, TVNZ reports that about 50 carcasses were found at the rural Martinborough property last month after council inspectors were tipped off by a concerned neighbour.

The few surviving birds were found living without supplied food, in manure more than half a metre deep, according to a neighbour.

The SPCA had visited the farm in August last year but found "no issues with welfare", despite the property having clearly been abandoned.

The farm, owned by Stephen and Aroha Gunson, is now under investigation by the SPCA. Mrs Gunson hung up when contacted by The Dominion Post yesterday.

South Wairarapa District Council planning and environment manager Glenn Bunny said neighbours reported not seeing any activity on the property for about eight months.

"When we went to check the property there were a number of chicken carcasses in various stages of decomposition, and around 10 live chickens."

The SPCA was notified and the farm's owner was asked to surrender his resource consent, he said.

A neighbour told The Dominion Post that, at its peak, the farm had held about 1000 birds and produced 900-1000 eggs per day.

The 7.7-hectare property on Hinakura Rd was on the market.

The neighbour said many of the chickens had been culled before the property was abandoned last winter, but 200-300 birds had been left to fend for themselves.

"In one of the chook houses there was probably about 2ft (0.6m) of manure, and the rats had got in and gone through it, so basically it looked like Swiss cheese.

"I'd say a fair bit of cannibalism had gone on as well."

The remaining birds had been killed by predators, died of exposure or been run over, he said.

Wairarapa SPCA president Val Ball described the property as a "shambles", but said there was no way to prove the chickens' cause of death.

"They may have died of starvation or they may have died of something else, we don't know."

She said she initially visited the property in August and found it to be in "a reasonable state".

"As far as we were concerned there were really no issues with welfare apart from not being supervised. There was water and they had plenty of room to roam and [forage] for food."SPCA regional chief inspector Lloyd Warren said an investigation was under way, with "key witnesses" yet to be contacted.

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