Using a hidden camera, an Animal Outlook investigator documented shocking abuses forced upon newly-hatched chicks and ducklings while employed at Cal-Cruz Hatcheries in 2009.

The video evidence was immediately turned over to the Santa Cruz County Animal Services Authority and the District Attorney’s Office. In response, a follow-up investigation conducted by humane law enforcement not only corroborated our evidence of abuse and neglect but also resulted in the impoundment of 88 ducklings.  Many of these rescued birds were given a second chance at life at an area sanctuary, though others were too sick or injured to survive.

Despite our strong evidence of abuse combined with additional information gathered through the Animal Services Authority’s own investigation, the District Attorney’s office sat on this case for a year and then declined to prosecute. AO issued a statement to set the record straight.

That’s when Animal Outlook decided to seek justice for these birds by taking legal action against Cal-Cruz Hatcheries - read about our legal case, successful settlement, and subsequent legal activity.

Caught on Camera: Inside the Hatchery

While employed as a maintenance worker at California-based Cal-Cruz Hatcheries Inc. for nearly a month in 2009, AO’s investigator witnessed and painstakingly documented miserable conditions forced upon thousands of newly hatched birds, including:

  • A chick drowning in a bucket of liquid waste
  • Birds entangled in machinery, their dead bodies mangled, decapitated, or missing limbs
  • Sick or severely injured birds left to suffer for hours
  • Unwanted hatchlings dumped down the egg shell disposal chute, then sprayed with a high-pressure hose
  • Birds thrown five to six feet across the room into buckets where they often languished for hours

“Towards the end of my [job] interview, the owner asked me if I would be bothered by seeing birds that are not handled properly. Having already seen many dead birds on the ground and parts of their bodies in the machines, I asked if some of the birds get caught in the machinery, and he said yes.”

Cal-Cruz Investigator

Cal-Cruz Investigator’s Log Notes

“When I walked into work on my first day as a maintenance worker, I walked through the facility and saw several boxes filled with chicks who appeared to be suffering—some looked sick, others were visibly injured, a few looked severely mangled but still breathing. I later learned that these ‘discarded’ birds are manually removed from the processing lines, collected throughout the day, then killed hours later. Many become injured on the machines routinely used for processing.”

“On my first day, I also noticed a few dead, mangled chicks under a conveyor belt leading into the area where they are sexed. By the end of the day, I couldn’t even count the number of dead birds on the ground—most of them appeared to have parts of their skin or limbs removed, some had been beheaded.”

“At the end of the day today, the ‘discarded’ birds were being dumped into the eggshell disposal chute, which is routine, but there were so many birds being thrown in there at once today that the system clogged, so [an employee] grabbed a mop handle and started jamming it into the pile of birds, forcing them into the drain.”

“As I was leaving today, I walked by the egg shell disposal chute and heard a bird chirping. I looked in and saw a single chick drowning in water that accumulated near the drain, which I’m guessing was clogged again.

“Every day that chicks are hatched, I see buckets and buckets of sick and injured birds piling up. Some are dead, having been severely mangled or disemboweled but most are alive—barely alive, and suffering from obvious injuries. Their pain is unimaginable; … it’s so heartbreaking….”

Cal-Cruz Animal Cruelty – What Experts Say

Animal Outlook asked independent experts in animal welfare and physiology to review our video footage from Cal-Cruz Hatcheries.

Here are excerpts from their statements:

Dr. Sara Shields, Ph.D. has a doctorate from the Univ. of California at Davis in Animal Behavior. Dr. Shields is a leading expert in animal welfare, with more than 10 years of experience as a research scientist, teacher, and consultant in animal welfare. She specializes in the welfare of poultry. After reviewing our video, Dr. Shields stated:

“I was truly disheartened by the obvious suffering of the chicks and ducklings I observed. … The most outstanding aspect of the video is what appears to be a general desensitization of facility employees to the sentient nature of these young animals.”

“It is inexcusable to leave animals who are clearly experiencing pain for a prolonged time period.”

“Overall, it appears that there is a general lack of safeguards to ensure that individual chicks and ducklings are cared for in an appropriate manner.”

Dr. Nedim C. Buyukmihci, DVM is a veterinarian internationally recognized for his professional expertise, with over 36 years of experience, much of it involving poultry. He is also Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Medicine at the Univ. of California. After reviewing our video, Dr. Buyukmihci stated:

“I saw evidence of contusions, abrasions, limb or extremities amputations, and decapitations. These are clearly the result of external trauma and consistent with that which would be caused by the machinery.”

“[T]he workers themselves were a source of suffering for the birds. It was clear from their actions that there was no concern for the welfare of the birds. … The birds in this video were treated in an extremely brutal and uncaring fashion.”

“Because these birds are precocious animals and have a well-developed central nervous system at hatching, the injuries or other illness I saw would have caused considerable pain and suffering for the birds.”

“Towards the end of my [job] interview, the owner asked me if I would be bothered by seeing birds that are not handled properly. Having already seen many dead birds on the ground and parts of their bodies in the machines, I asked if some of the birds get caught in the machinery, and he said yes.”

Cal-Cruz Investigator

Cal-Cruz Rescue – Impounded Birds Get Second Chance at Life

Our video evidence uncovering shocking animal abuse prompted Santa Cruz County Animal Services Authority to look further into this case.

In conducting its own follow-up investigation, this humane law enforcement agency collected additional evidence of abuse and neglect and impounded 88 ducklings in need of care.

While several of these newly-hatched birds were too sick or injured to survive, more than two dozen were given a new chance at life at a nearby sanctuary.

Rescued ducks now living at Farm Sanctuary. By Connie Pugh.


Act Now

Cal-Cruz Hatcheries

This documented case of animal abuse at Cal-Cruz Hatcheries is not an isolated incident. Rather, animal cruelty is standard in the meat-, egg-, and dairy industries, and the most effective step each of us can take to help stop it is to simply leave animals off our plates.