A poultry farm in northern England has been fined after a computer glitch caused tens of thousands of chickens to overheat and die.
The tragic incident at Hose Lodge Farm in Colston Bassett, Nottinghamshire, was caused by a “computer malfunction” in a broiler shed ventilation system on a warm spring day.
Around 50,000 chickens were inside the shed on May 26 2020 when inlets on the side of the building closed for a scheduled rest period. A fault in the system that regulated air flow to the shed prevented another tunnel ventilation system from opening, turning the shed into a sealed unit.
The temperature inside the shed rose rapidly, causing the birds to suffer heat stress. An investigation into the incident by Leicestershire County Council found that an alarm which should have been set to sound when the temperature inside the building reached 27°C (80.6°F) had been incorrectly set to go off at 37°C (98.6°F).
By the time staff at the farm were alerted to the problem, more than half the chickens (27,249) had died.
The Council’s Trading Standards Service prosecuted the company managing the farm, Hudson & Sanders Limited, for being negligent in its care of the birds. The service said that the staffing level on the farm was inadequate, and that staff had not received enough training, leaving them unsure of what to do in the event of an overheating incident.
At Leicester Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, district judge Nick Watson described the overheating incident as ‘a disaster’ and said that the chickens which had survived in the extreme temperature would have suffered.
According to Leicestershire Live, Hudson & Sanders Limited pleaded guilty to four charges under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Watson fined the company £44K ($55K) and ordered it to pay the county council’s legal costs of £12,634.83 ($15,715.77).
“This was an awful but thankfully rare incident in terms of the scale of unnecessary suffering,” said the county council’s head of regulatory services, Gary Connors. “However, we hope the level of fine prompts businesses operating in this sector to review their operations to ensure they have adequate staffing and procedures in place to avoid such a distressing incident happening again.”