European Open Rescue of Battery Hens
March 14, 2003 St. Margarethen, Austria

Austrian animal advocacy group Verein Gegen Tierfabriken (Association Against Animal Factories) have conducted the first Austrian open rescue of battery hens. Acting upon cruelty complaints received from an anonymous source, the VGT rescue team entered a battery farm owned by Florian Zichtl in Lower Austria. The team documented multiple incidents of dead, dying and severely ill hens – conditions which open rescue teams have exposed as standard industry practice around the world. The VGT rescue team rescued seven hens, the survivors have been placed in safe, caring homes.

Following is the rescue report by Dr Martin Balluch, President of the VGT.

Background: In 2002 the new EU directive for battery farms was implemented. After long debates, five of nine Austrian provinces legislated a ban on battery farms and the others only implemented the minimum standards of the EC, with a 10 year phase-out in Lower Austria. Those minimum standards enlarge the cages from 450 square cm per hen to 650 square cm per hen, and add a nest, a branch and a mat in the cage (the so-called "enriched cages"). As Lower Austria has now the worst egg laying hen regulations, we wanted to highlight the fate of battery hens there. The EC is actually prosecuting the Austrian government at the moment, for inadequately and belatedly implementing their regulations.

Rescue: On March 14, 2003 we entered the battery farm in the early morning hours accompanied by several journalists. We documented the conditions inside the battery farm, including poisonous air, cages with only 375 square cm space per hen instead of the (ridiculous) 450 square cm the law demands, 15 dead hens inside cages, and seriously injured and weak and dying birds everywhere. We took seven birds with us and drove straight to the emergency vet in Vienna.

One of the rescued birds had a five centimetre wound in her body, which the vet told us extended right to the colon so that her food would come out of the wound instead of through her anus. She was put to sleep. All the other six chickens stayed alive. One had been found lying on the cage floor, with insects and worms all over her body and in her eyes - she was eaten alive and too weak to defend herself. All hens had absolutely no feathers and were also covered with insects. Many had wounds and all were ill.

We reported the rescue to the authorities and detailed all nine charges of broken animal husbandry laws, and the criminal law of animal abuse. We submitted photographs and video footage of the conditions inside the shed. The rescue received good media coverage and whether a case will be brought against the rescuers is still open.

Verein Gegen Tierfabriken was founded in 1992. Originally conceived as a group solely concerned with animal factories, the association has now firmly embraced the animal rights philosophy and espouses the vegan ideal.

Click on any photo for larger version

a hen sits on her dead companion in the cage. the corpse is terribly rotted, and has been lying there for weeks or months

another dead hen in a cage. during the brief inspection VGT found 15 such dead hens

six hens illegally crammed into a too small cage

hen with severely inflamed cloaca

hens with severe wounds and feather loss

this hen was taken to the emergency vet. she had a five centimetre deep wound, reaching to her stomach. the contents of her stomach seeped out of the wound. she had to be euthanased.

a fatally sick hen waiting to die in her cage. worms and insects are eating her alive. her face, and her eyes in particular, are covered in insects. this hen was also taken to the emergency vet.

dr balluch making his way out of the battery hen farm with one of the rescued hens.

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