Farm management company Melton Mowbray fined after 27,000 chickens died


Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Submitted by Leicestershire County Council

A company that runs poultry farms has been fined £44,000 after a computer malfunction in a ventilation system caused the death of 27,000 chickens near Melton Mowbray.

Leicestershire County Council’s Trading Standards Department prosecuted Hudson and Sanders Limited, with the company pleading guilty to four counts under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 at Leicester Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday April 27.

Some 50,000 chickens were being kept in a large shed at Hose Lodge Farm in Colston Bassett when, on May 26, 2020, the systems that regulated airflow, vital to the chickens’ welfare, failed.

After the hearing, County Council Regulatory Services Chief Gary Connors said: “This was a horrific incident but fortunately rare in terms of the extent of unnecessary suffering.

“However, we hope the level of fines will prompt companies operating in this sector to review their operations to ensure adequate staffing and procedures to avoid a repeat of such a harrowing incident.”

The court heard that entrances to the side of the building closed for a bird rest period in the afternoon, but another tunnel ventilation system did not open, creating a sealed unit.

On a hot day, the temperature in the shed rose rapidly and the birds were unable to cool down due to the breakdown, causing them heat stress, suffering and death.

An alarm sounded when the temperature rose to 37 degrees and staff were alerted, but council investigators said it should have been set to 27 degrees.

The farm manager was on leave when the incident occurred, but was still present as he lived on site.

A rescue officer supplied by Hudson and Sanders Limited had left the site on a break when the incident occurred.

By the time staff were able to enter the shed, 27,249 chickens were dead.

The council sued the company for being negligent in its care of the birds, which were raised for their meat.

By commercial standards, the company failed to ensure that there were enough staff to look after the chickens and that they were not trained to the level required, leading to a situation where they did not know what to do in time.

The county council argued the breach was aggravated because a veterinarian from the Animal and Plant Health Agency visited the farm in November 2019 and raised concerns about the lack of staff or plan for ventilation.

District Judge Nick Watson described the May 26 incident as “a disaster” and said the surviving birds were also said to have suffered.

He fined the company £44,000 and ordered it to pay County Council costs of £12,634.83.

By way of mitigation, the defendant’s attorneys said the company, which ran the poultry operation on behalf of the farm owner, regretted the incident.

The court heard that Hudson and Sanders Limited had never had any convictions for animal welfare offenses and otherwise had an excellent reputation in the industry.

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