Dorset Chicken Farmer Prosecuted

A Dorset farmer has admitted a string of animal welfare offences after inspectors found his chickens were suffering from burns.

Chickens reared at a farm in Sherborne were found to have suffered due to a failure by the owners to attend to their condition.

On 2 June at Weymouth Magistrates' Court both R&J Farms Limited and Director John Riddell (aged 56, of Merriot, Somerset) pleaded guilty to 12 offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 of causing unnecessary suffering to chickens by their failure to act to deal with skin burns.

The court heard how two deliveries in September last year, totalling over 21,000 birds, to a processing plant in Warwickshire, were found to contain a very high percentage of birds suffering from skin burns to the feet. The worst cases included chickens with deep lesions to the breast and legs, with 12 examples being the offences before the Court.
The Company and Director Riddell also pleaded guilty to two offences of transporting batches of chickens when they were not in a fit condition for the journey, contrary to the Welfare of Animals Order 2006.

The condition of the birds results from their feet and skin being in contact with wet and acidic fouled bedding. Offences came to light when the official veterinary officer at the processing plant reported concerns to the County Council's Trading Standards Service.

A false claim was also made on a required declaration form sent to the processing plant accompanying deliveries, indicating that R&J Farms Ltd was a member of an assured chicken production scheme. Although a member of the scheme for a short period, the farm never had an assessment visit and was removed from the scheme in March 2009. As a result both parties also pleaded guilty to an offence under the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008, for 'misleading advertising'.

Both Riddell and his company were given a three-year Conditional Discharge and the Company, R&J Farms Limited, was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,960.

In mitigation on behalf of Mr Riddell and his company, Magistrates heard how the business had been faced with a 'series of challenges' from disease and the poor condition of premises that the company had taken over. The difficulties in dealing with the farm which held up to 75,000 chickens at one time were stressed. The business had since invested in improvements including new ventilation and had left the sheds empty while a regime of cleaning was carried out.

Ivan Hancock, Trading Standards Manager for Dorset County Council, said:

"We would always encourage farmers experiencing problems with the welfare of their animals to contact us. Our primary welfare aim is to avoid any suffering to farmed animals and advise on prompt appropriate action, with the help of the Government vets we work with. We will, however, continue to take enforcement action where appropriate against those who have failed to maintain what are viewed as acceptable minimum standards and failed in their responsibilities to their animals' welfare."

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