RSPCA suspend Norfolk free-range chicken farm

(EDP24) -- A free-range egg farm in central Norfolk has been suspended from a welfare-friendly scheme after an investigation found dead and neglected chickens in overcrowded surroundings.

An undercover investigation showed dead poultry in a chicken shed at Simon Dann's Pound Farm in North Tuddenham, near Dereham.

The poultry enterprise, run by Mr Dann, was a member of the RSPCA's Freedom Food standard. It was immediately suspended after the footage, which was broadcast again last night, was shown to the RSPCA.

Last night, Mr Dann said that he kept his birds in line with RSPCA guidelines.

However, Leigh Grant, chief executive of Freedom Food, said: “The RSPCA is horrified and extremely concerned at any allegations of animals suffering - and has taken immediate action by suspending the farm, and launching our own investigation.

“As soon as we were made aware of the issues by Channel Five News, we took immediate action to suspend the farm, pending further investigation.”

Mr Dann was the farmer, who was at the centre of Norfolk's flu outbreak in April 2006. Mr Dann and his father, Geoffrey, kept about 16,000 chickens on two free range units at North Tuddenham. They were all slaughtered after the H7N3 virus was detected on April 29, 2006.

The film report, shot at night and broadcast by Channel Five, appeared to show dead poultry and many of the birds had missing feathers.

Channel Five News reporter Jason Farrell said he spent several days on the farm to gather footage of the birds. “There were a lot of birds cramped together,” he said.

“There were dead birds and they had been there a long time because they were decomposed and some carried a film of dust. RSPCA regulations state that birds should be removed at the very latest within 24 hours of dying. Checks should be done three times a day,” said Mr Farrell.

“People pay a premium for these eggs. They think that animals on this farm will be living in far healthier conditions. But the reality is that they have fallen far short of health guidelines,” he added.