Statement from RSPCA NSW regarding hens at Lakesland

On 20 June 2018 we received footage of dead and dying hens at a barn egg farm. That footage can only be described as truly horrifying. RSPCA NSW Inspectors immediately commenced an investigation, and attended the farm that afternoon.

We had received incomplete intel 10 days prior. During the initial complaint, we were not given an address, and we asked the informant to call back with further information, however that did not happen. With an incomplete complaint, and incorrect information that the police were handling the matter, RSPCA Inspectorate protocol was followed, which meant that RSPCA did not at that time intervene in a police matter.

Between Wednesday 20 June and Friday 6 July 2018, RSPCA NSW attended the Lakesland property every day except for three. On four occasions, RSPCA attended with a Local Land Services District Veterinarian, on a further two occasions, with an expert avian veterinarian, and on another occasion with an industry consultant.

Having found symptoms signs of potential notifiable diseases, samples were taken, and tests were conducted by both vets. Due to the potential of contagious notifiable diseases, biosecurity protocols were instilled.

In accordance with Inspectorate policy, legally binding 24N Written Directions were issued to the owner of the hens to comply with improving welfare standards within a short period of time. On the same day, a number of birds were seized under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and remain central to the animal cruelty investigation.

The hens had sufficient food and water every day while inspectors were on site, and welfare conditions were improving.

We attempted to negotiate with the owner of the hens to release some hens to rescue groups, but following an alleged trespass event where activists were allegedly violent and attempted to steal hens, he refused to cooperate with any rescue groups.

NSW Police arrested 13 protestors for a range of offences on site including acts of animal cruelty, trespass and assaulting police. RSPCA NSW is not involved in those matters and all enquiries regarding the arrests of protestors should be directed towards NSW Police.

Both the Local Land Services veterinarian, and the avian expert veterinarian on separate occasions collected and sent samples for testing. Results were received from both indicating that the flock was positive for Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT) – a highly contagious, respiratory disease caused by a herpesvirus. ILT does not pose a risk to human health, however it has a mortality rate of up to 70% in poultry. ILT has a rapid spread, and symptoms were present in the vast majority of the flock. There is no cure for infected birds and they will be carriers of the disease for life.

Consent was given by the producer to the Local Land Services (LLS) for the euthanasia of the flock, for biosecurity considerations, to protect other flocks and industry. This was carried out by a private contractor on behalf of the owner.

The owner of the hens remains under investigation by RSPCA NSW for multiple alleged serious animal cruelty offences. While we understand it can be frustrating, it takes time for a robust animal cruelty case to be built and veterinary and other evidence must be compiled.

The RSPCA does not have the power to simply shut an agricultural enterprise down. In serious animal cruelty prosecutions the RSPCA does seek prohibition orders to stop people convicted of these offences from owning animals again, and in many cases the court makes the orders sought.

Penalties for animal cruelty can be up to $22,000 and 5 years in jail, or for a corporation, $110,000.

UPDATE 30 April 2019: Lakesland egg farm owner convicted for cruelty against 4,000 hens

For more information, or an interview with a RSPCA NSW spokesperson, please contact RSPCA NSW Media
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