Excerpts from the Esbenshade Farms Investigator’s Log Notes
Every day the investigator worked at Esbenshade Farms he kept log notes. Below are excerpts from those notes.
Friday, November 18, 2005
I … was given a short tour of the facility and packing plant. Each of the seven houses is at least as long as a football field, and the cages are stacked four tiers high, running down the length of the building. An estimated 550,000 to 600,000 birds are kept at this Esbenshade facility.
As we walked into house #1, I noticed a strong ammonia odor in the air that was thick with dust. I saw a few dead birds lying in the aisles between the rows of cages
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I arrived at the farm at 5:25 a.m. for my first day of work. … At no time today did I receive any verbal or written instructions about proper animal handling nor any protocols on what to do with injured or dying birds. The only animal-related instruction I received was … regarding live birds who were out of their cages: [I was] told … to try to catch any live birds who had escaped from the cages and were roaming in the aisles and to “stuff” them back into a cage.
I noticed that most of the birds were de-beaked and overcrowded with as many as nine others in a single cage. Some were covered in excrement that had fallen from the cage above. Several birds were stuck under the feeding rail, and it was difficult to free their immobilized necks, wings, legs, and other body parts trapped by the cages. I also saw birds in the aisles—some mobile with others unable to stand, lying down with their legs splayed out behind them.
The procedure for dealing with dead birds was relayed to me as follows: Dead birds are removed from cages, thrown onto the floor of the aisles between rows of cages, later collected in shopping carts, then put into garbage bags (ten birds per bag), and stored in freezers in the manure pits below the houses. I was told that on Thursdays, the dead bodies are loaded onto a dump truck and sent to a rendering plant. [He] said that the dump truck is completely full of dead birds at the end of loading each week.
Throughout the day, I removed approximately 300 dead birds from cages and collected several more who were lying in the aisles of house #5.
After working in house #5 for a few hours, I then went into house #3, as assigned, and removed approximately 25 dead birds from cages, again following the protocol.
In both houses, I saw dead birds in various stages of decomposition in cages with live birds. Some were bloated and their skin had turned black. Others appeared bloody, and several were little more than skeletal remains. In some cases, I found dead birds with parts of their bodies caught in between the wires of the cages or even pierced by broken wires, clearly having been unable to access food or water. In order to remove one dead bird from a cage, I had to unhook the lower part of her beak that was speared on a loose wire hanging just above the cage.
I asked … what I should do if I find birds who are not yet dead but appear to be dying in their cages. He said that those birds will most likely die soon and their bodies may slide onto the egg belt causing jams and delays. He explained that dying birds should be pulled out of their cages to prevent this. However, he did not explain what to do with these dying birds upon removing them from the cage.
The stench inside these houses was overpowering at times. In addition to the ammonia emitted from the manure pits below and the decomposing bodies inside many of the cages, there are many broken, rotting eggs. What seemed like thousands of flies swarmed inside the houses.
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Last night, I couldn’t wash away the stench of manure, ammonia, and decaying chickens. It seemed to be all over me. I had a difficult time breathing, probably from all the dust in the houses that had made its way into my lungs despite the dust mask I had worn. I coughed throughout the night and got little sleep.
Upon arriving at the farm this morning, I started removing dead birds from cages in house #5 and found a hen who appeared to be dying. Her cage-mates were walking all over her, so I removed her from the cage and started carrying her to the end of the aisle intending to ask … a co-worker what to do with her. Before I reached the end of the aisle, however, she died in my arms. I placed her body next to the other dead birds I had already removed from other cages. Altogether, I collected about 70 to 80 dead hens in that house today.
In just my first two days working at Esbenshade, I have found several live birds whose wings or entire bodies were stuck under the feeding rails. Today, I found a bird with both of her wings caught in the wires of the cage, which forced her to put her head down onto the egg conveyor belt. The fact that these cages are in such disrepair may help explain why so many birds are getting stuck—I’ve noticed loose or protruding wires in many of the cages.
The truck came today to pick up all the dead birds collected over the past week and take them to a rendering plant. Our job is to empty the garbage bags filled with dead birds onto a Bobcat skid loader. The birds are then dumped into the back of the truck. By the time we were done, there must have been hundreds and hundreds of birds piled up in that truck.
I am surprised that there are a large number of cats inside the houses. Many appear to be sick with discharge leaking from their eyes, and some seem to have either broken limbs or old fractures that healed incorrectly. Some of the more social cats follow me in the aisles and even jump up on the feeding rails while I’m removing dead hens from cages. Today in house #5, I saw a two cats ripping apart and eating a dead bird. This is especially troubling considering that these dead and dying birds are apparently suffering from some illness …
Friday, December 2, 2005
I worked in houses #3 and #5 again today and found many more birds stuck in the wires of their cages. Three birds had their wings caught under the feeding rail. I had difficulty freeing them, and they all appeared to have minor injuries as a result of being entangled. I also found several birds with their toes or overgrown nails stuck in between metal clips or wires. Their nails grow so long that they sometimes become lodged in all the little crevices in the cage. I also found an immobilized bird who was being trampled by her cage-mates. She was lethargic, presumably from lack of food and water, and couldn’t even stand once I freed her from the wires.
I again asked … what to do with birds who appear to be injured or dying. He said that if the bird looks like she will still be productive, I was to leave her in the cage. For those who look like they will not survive, he said to remove them. I followed up by asking what I was supposed to do with them once I take them out of the cage. [He] replied that I was to hold their bodies tight and pull their necks to dislocate the spine. He warned me not to pull off their heads, though, because blood gets everywhere. He quickly showed me this process just once using a dead bird.
Today, I removed about 35 dead hens from cages. I didn’t get a chance to spend more time checking on the birds—I’m in charge of monitoring about 170,000 birds each day—because I had to deal with a number of mechanical problems. There were a lot of jams during egg collection due to birds getting stuck under the feeding rails and blocking the belts. The belts and cages themselves also cause many of the problems. It seemed like an unending battle. I have to either skip my breaks or cut them short in order to make sure I can keep up with all of the egg jams that occur. Otherwise, after returning from a break, I’m likely to find an aisle full of overflowing, broken eggs.
Saturday, December 3, 2005
Again, I worked in houses #3 and #5 today. In all, I removed nearly 100 dead birds from cages. In house #5, I found another dead bird hanging by her beak which had been pierced on a wire hook at the top of the cage. I also found more birds who were stuck under the feeding rails, and some whose feet were entangled in the wires of the cages. One bird’s toe was caught between a wire bar and a metal clip. After I freed her, I saw that her toe was caked in dried blood, but was able to stand. Another hen had somehow gotten her beak stuck between two wires on the floor of her cage. She was unable to move. I also picked up a bird who I thought was dead because she was too weak even to stand or move, preventing her from accessing food or water in the cage.
Each worker here is responsible for monitoring between 120,000 to 170,000 hens every day. Even if we had no other duties, it would be impossible to check on each bird or even thoroughly look inside each cage. As I noted yesterday, there are so many mechanical problems (primarily with the egg collection system) to attend to that there is even less time to look after the birds. I try to spend as much time as possible looking for birds stuck in the wires of their cages and removing dead birds from cages with live hens, but there simply is not enough time in the day.
Sunday, December 4, 2005
I pulled about 70 dead birds from house #5 and 20 from house #3. In just four days, I have found countless birds, both dead and alive, stuck in their cages, unable to reach food or water. Today, as on previous days, I found:
- a dead bird with her beak impaled on a wire hook used to hold up the water pipe;
- a dead bird impaled on a loose wire that had come apart from the cage;
- a dead bird with her leg stuck in the wires of the cage floor;
- a dead bird whose head was caught between two wires at the top of the cage, hanging by her throat;
- several live birds trapped under the feeding rail and
- several more birds whose feet and/or toes were entangled in the wires of their cages.
I also found a bird whose wing was pierced on protruding wires. She was forced to lie on the floor of the cage—a few eggs, unable to roll onto the conveyor, were piling up behind her. After I pulled her wing from the wires, I bent the wires so they weren’t a danger.
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
I worked in houses #3 and #5 again and removed approximately 24 dead birds out of house #5 and 15 from #3. As I walked through house #3, I found two birds lying in the aisles—both were still alive but suffering with what appeared to be broken wings and neither could stand. Outside of cages, the birds had no access to food or water. I asked … why these two birds were in the aisles, and he said that some of the workers who find birds dying in the cages take them out because they don’t want the egg belts to jam. But, because they don’t like to kill the birds, they just leave them in the aisles. … He also mentioned that sometimes, if a bird is injured, some of the workers will place her in an empty cage, which they refer to as the “hospital.” I asked if there is anything else that can be done for injured birds and he replied, “No.”
I found more birds caught under the feeding rails today, as well as a bird with her toe caught in a metal clip. Another bird died after her beak got caught on a wire hook at the top of the cage. Every time I find a bird who died like this, I try to bend the wires to prevent it from happening again, but there seem to be a lot of cages with these exposed hooks.
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Today I started working in house #1. … The stench inside #1 is really nauseating. I removed 104 dead birds from cages, and nearly half of them were severely decomposed. … Many of these dead birds had their wings or feet entangled in the wires of the cage. I found one dead hen who had an egg still partially inside her body.
Nearly all of the birds in house #1 have severe feather-loss. And, as in houses #3 and #5, I found several birds whose wings got wedged between the feeding rails and the wires of the cages. It took several minutes to free each bird I came across in this immobilized position.
Thursday, December 8, 2005
I removed 35 dead birds from house #5 and 52 from #1. Once again, I found more live hens entangled in the wires of their cage.
Since it’s Thursday, the rendering truck came to the farm to collect the dead birds we had pulled throughout the previous week. There were so many dead birds to be picked up this time that the truck had to make two trips. At one point, [a co-worker] and I went into one of the houses to get more trash bags filled with dead birds and saw a live bird sitting on a pile of trash bags. [He] grabbed the hen by her tail feathers and legs and tossed her toward the door where the Bobcat skid loader was parked. She squawked, fluttered, and landed harshly on the concrete floor. [They] started laughing.
While monitoring the houses today, I found a bird who couldn’t raise her head. She was clearly unable to access food or water and was getting stomped on by her cage-mates. I pulled her out of the cage and placed her on the floor to better assess her condition. She was able to walk, though she was wobbly. As she took a few steps backwards, unable to walk forwards, her head dragged on the ground.
Although I had spent a lot of time yesterday looking for dead birds in house #1, I found a number of severely decomposed corpses today.