Just several days ago, 165,000 lives were lost in a fire. If anyone were to read a headline like that, they would undoubtedly refer to it as a tragedy and mourn the lives lost. But when the 165,000 lives are those of chickens imprisoned at an egg factory farm, the animal agriculture industry refers to that as an unfortunate loss of product. We think these hens deserve better.
A fire broke out in a barn on Hickman’s Egg Ranch in Arizona and quickly spread to a nearby barn. At this large-scale factory farm, 26 sheds held roughly 82,000 hens each. In two of those buildings, 165,000 hens were trapped, unable to escape, as flames engulfed them.
Now, all that remains of the hens or the barns they were sequestered in are grotesque piles of misshapen aluminum and metal bars, remnants of the structure they were trapped in as the flames swallowed them whole, burning them alive. One of the most tragic aspects of this tremendous loss of life is that it could have been prevented, and those hens did not have to be there and die such painful, excruciating deaths.
Hickman’s Egg Ranch is more commonly known as Hickman’s Family Farms and is the largest egg producer in the state of Arizona. Their reaction to the fire as publicized by the media would lead people to believe that the business is a small, humble one that suffered a devastating loss of chickens who they were very familiar with. But if there were approximately 82,000 hens to each barn, one can only imagine that each hen wasn’t treated as an individual with a name and importance beyond what they could produce for the company.
The animal agriculture industry doesn’t care about the animals it exploits. It only cares about the bottom line. The truth is that no matter how much meat, egg and dairy producers claim to have a “deeper connection” with the animals, the animals are ultimately just products.
According to an Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) report on barn fires published in October 2018, the number of chicken deaths per year vastly outnumbers those of other species. From 2013 to 2017, 95 percent of farm animals killed in barn fires were chickens. There are no federal or state laws in the United States specifically designed to protect farmed animals from barn fires, and although many fires could be prevented with proper inspection, maintenance and detection systems, there are currently no laws in the United States requiring fire protection measures in barns. Animal protection groups like Animal Outlook are doing the work to help expose the dangers of large-scale industrial farming. Nonprofits including the National Fire Protection Association and AWI actively work toward stronger protections for farmed animals and humans while Hickman’s and other factory farming facilities bounce back from fires by simply recouping their losses through insurance.
The callous nature of the animal agriculture industry extends beyond the exploitation of animals. In a publication citing top egg companies in the industry, it was revealed that in March of last year, when the Arizona Department of Corrections decided to temporarily pull inmate labor out of the public to minimize the spread of COVID-19, Hickman’s stood to lose a meaningful portion of its workforce. The egg producer fought to keep their female inmate labor by building a dormitory at its facility in Buckeye, insisting that the 140 inmates could live in the dormitory while continuing to labor for Hickman’s and not commingle with the public and potentially spread the COVID-19 virus. But in June, ABC15 in Arizona reported that “at least six Arizona prison inmates assigned to live and work on-site at the well-known Hickman’s Family Egg Farm have tested positive for coronavirus.”
Those 140 women were members of the only prison work crew not suspended due to the pandemic. The company seemed to have no qualms with endangering human lives to keep their factory farm going. As the Executive Director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association Carlos Garcia revealed during an interview with ABC15 investigators, “the inmates are on top of each other, literally…so if three inmates have it, they’ve all been exposed.” It was also reported that inmates desperately contacted outside friends to write to ABC15 about the virus outbreak and other violations at Hickman’s that put their lives at risk, such as not enough precautions being taken to protect the women, and requiring them to work in confined spaces.
Beyond the headlines and quotes, the history behind this egg factory farm and the industry’s clear disregard for the animals they exploit exposes the true nature of this senseless tragedy. To the animal agriculture industry, the lives of 165,000 hens dying in a fire is seen as an inconvenient loss in profit, not the heartbreaking loss of life that it truly is.
You can help break this cruel cycle of abuse by choosing a plant-based diet. And Animal Outlook is here to help you do just that – you can find vegan recipes, tips, information and more at our TryVeg.com website, you can take the VegPledge for this year’s VegWeek, April 19-25, and you can make every week VegWeek by joining our Facebook group to connect with like-minded individuals, discover new recipes, get support and more.
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Photo credit: Buckeye Valley Fire District
Erin recently retired from the field after two years undercover. Now, as Animal Outlook’s Deputy Director of Investigations, she assists with the overall management of investigations and is primarily responsible for conducting research related to investigations and standard practices in the animal agriculture industry. This information is used both by Animal Outlook for various programs and initiatives as well as by investigators in the field.
While undercover, Erin conducted the first-ever investigation of a U.S. fish farming facility, exposing the ugly truth about aquaculture. Her footage from a Virginia factory farm supplying Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken producer, revealed shocking abuse of birds, and she documented senseless, violent abuse of mother cows and their defenseless calves at a Pennsylvania dairy factory farm – much as she did at her final investigation at another dairy factory farm in California.