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Plea deal reached in chicken cruelty case
45,000 hens died in 2012 cruelty case
rescued hens pic
Around 5,000 hens were rescued in 2012 from the A&L Poultry business southwest of Keyes after the facility was shut down by animal control services. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The case that charged two defendants with animal cruelty for mistreating thousands of hens at their poultry farm southwest of Keyes came to a close March 22 with a plea deal for one defendant and charges dropped against the other.

Andy Cheung and Lien Diep were each facing a felony charge of animal cruelty for the death and mistreatment of thousands of hens at A&L Poultry. Cheung entered a no contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty and the charge against Lien was dropped, according to the Stanislaus County Superior Court records.

On Feb. 21, 2012, Stanislaus County Animal Control Services responded to a complaint about starving hens at a ranch at 9501 Carpenter Road. Authorities reported that out of an estimated 50,000 hens found at A&L Poultry, more than 20,000 were dead of starvation or drowned in the manure pits under the cages. Another 25,000 were euthanized in the days following the discovery because their bodies were already in organ failure. Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary rescued about 5,000 hens.

After entering his no contest plea, Cheung was sentenced to three years' probation and pay restitution. The fine amount has not been determined.

Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Timothy Wester, who was at the poultry farm that day, testified at a preliminary hearing that it was a grisly scene, with "piles of white carcasses that weren't moving or breathing."

He also said that many of the cages had both live and dead chickens inside and that it appeared the live hens, for lack of food, had been eating on the dead hens.

Wester also described the bottom level of the barns as being filled with a "soupy" mixture of urine and feces that was about four to six inches deep. He also said he saw several dead chickens in the mixture.

Wester testified he spoke with Cheung, who told him the hens had stopped laying eggs and that he was in the process of changing out the flock. When asked about the feeding schedule for the hens, Cheung did not give Wester an answer.

During the preliminary hearing the defense argued the chickens were in a process called a "forced molt," to reinvigorate the egg laying process. Forced molting is a process in which hens are deprived of food for a select amount of time, typically no longer than two weeks. During this time the hens go out of production and their reproductive abilities get a chance to rejuvenate. When food is reintroduced the egg production usually restarts.

The practice of forced molting has largely fallen out of favor in many countries, including the United States.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Veterinarian Randall Anderson testified that even if they had been in the process of a forced molt, the company was ill-prepared for it and would not have had such a high death rate.

A controlled molt has about a one percent loss, according to Anderson.

Anderson also testified the four grain tanks and all the feed systems were completely empty.

Anderson testified that animal services started euthanizing the chickens with carbon monoxide less than 24 hours after the discovery at the ranch was made.

He stated it took about three days to complete and that during that time the chickens were not fed.

Anderson testified the decision to not feed the chickens was made because many of them were in organ failure and to feed them might have caused more pain and potential disease outbreak.

At the time of the discovery of the hens, Stanislaus County Animal Services Executive Director Annette Patton described it as the worst case of animal cruelty the county had ever seen.

In addition to criminal charges, Cheung and Diep have each faced civil suits. Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary filed a lawsuit against the pair after rescuing approximately 5,000 of the hens. A settlement was reached between the parties that bars Cheung and Diep from ever working with animals again.