70 000 chicks 'culled' a week

2009-08-12 08:38

Vanderbijlpark - North West police are investigating a case of animal cruelty against the directors of a well-known family business belonging to Jan Serfontein, former MEC for agriculture, conservation and environmental affairs in the province.

Serfontein and his son, Jan jnr, of Boskop Layer Chicks, a well-known poultry business located outside Potchefstroom, reportedly get rid of up to 70 000 day-old rooster chicks every week in an extremely cruel way, since the birds are "economically useless".

Boskop Layer Chicks, one of the three largest chicken farms in the country, only breed hens for the egg market and therefore "have no choice" but to get rid of the rooster chicks, said George Gibbens, the Serfonteins' legal representative, on Tuesday.

According to Kobus van Zyl, a former employee of the Serfonteins, "for the past 70 years" - as long as the farm has been in business - up to 70 000 day-old rooster chicks a week are thrown in the field and in an empty cement dam on the farm to die.

A waste product

Van Zyl said some of the chicks take up to five days to die. Some are smothered under the weight of the others, while most die of exposure as they don't have any food or water.

Van Zyl told Beeld that "the rooster chicks are the waste product of a very profitable business, and the Serfonteins didn't know what to do with them".

Van Zyl made video recordings of the activities on the farm over a certain period of time, and gave the footage to the TV programme Carte Blanche, who then informed the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) about the alleged cruelty.

On Tuesday, Christine Kuch, the NSPCA's head of communication, said the organisation tried to enter the Serfontein farm last month, but were repeatedly refused entry.

However, the NSPCA obtained a court warrant and thus "eventually" gained access to the farm. According to Kuch an NSPCA inspector found at least 10 trays containing about 30 000 rooster chicks.

Some of the chicks were half-smothered. Others were not even completely hatched yet.

Unfairly implicated

According to a statement by the NSPCA, its inspectors confronted the owner of the business about not having the correct equipment to get rid of the rooster chicks. "The owner was surprised that we were shocked by the situation."

Gibbens said he feels the Serfonteins are being unfairly implicated in the case. They have always been concerned about the well-being of their animals, and deny being guilty of any cruelty.

However, Van Zyl said he decided to expose the "truth" because the "rubbish" which has built up on the farm over almost seven decades has caused serious pollution of the Mooi River. "All the rubbish has run into the Boskop and Potch dams over the years."

Serfontein jnr refused to comment, and referred Beeld to Gibbens.

Kevin Lovell, chief official of SA Poultry, a body which represents the chicken industry, said they are aware of the case and are currently investigating the matter.