Video shows dead birds, ‘extreme confinement’ at Hickman’s egg farm, activists say




Live chickens with a dead chicken in a cage at a Hickman's Family Farms facility in Arlington, Arizona, in January 2019, in a video shot by animal rights activists. Screenshot via YouTube/Direct Action Everywhere

A video shot by an animal rights group inside a Hickman’s Egg Ranch facility in the West Valley and shared with Arizona Mirror shows dead birds, others with open sores and overcrowded cages. 

Hickman’s, a family-owned local business with industrial-sized farms, is the second-largest egg producer in the Western United States. It has farms in Arlington, Tonopah and Maricopa in Arizona, in addition to two farms in Colorado and another in California. In total, it has capacity for approximately 13 million egg-laying hens.

Members of Direct Action Everywhere, the group that released the video, took the videos in January. Celeste Esser was among them, and said she and another person trespassed to gain access to Hickman’s large farm in Arlington. 

“It was very appalling. We saw things that I can only describe as criminal animal cruelty. Horrific to say the least,” Esser said. “What stuck with me is the overall screaming. Walking inside seeing piles of dead babies, dead bodies. Millions of eyes looking at you. You can see the air, and that was one of the most shocking things is how much filth was in the air, and how much is going outside.”

Direct Action Everywhere spokesman Matt Johnson said the group took nearly a year to release the video because it was gathering more information, including legal advice and expert review, to support their findings.

Direct Action Everywhere is an international animal rights group that uses nonviolent direct action tactics toward the cause of “total animal liberation,” described on the group’s website as the idea “that every sentient being deserves the same safety, happiness, and freedom that we ask for ourselves.” Its protests have targeted restaurants, companies and countries over animal rights abuses.

Glenn Hickman, CEO of the company, declined to comment on the video, which the Mirror shared with the company. 

“The video provided is evidence of criminal trespass at a minimum,” he said in an email. “We won’t be commenting on illegal activities committed against our company and property.”

The video shows a cage with several hens and one dead bird with feces on it, other dead birds on the floor, dirty cages, birds with open sores and no feathers and crowded pens and “cage-free” shelves.

Dr. Sherstin Rosenberg, a California veterinarian and animal rights activist who Direct Action Everywhere asked to review the video, said the most concerning takeaway is the “extreme confinement” the hens are in. 

“There’s no type of ability for them to display any type of natural behavior, like dust bathing, sun bathing, pecking at the ground, and exploring,” she said. “They can’t do any of those things that are so important to them.”

Rosenberg also runs the Happy Hen Animal Sanctuary, which she started with her teenage daughter as a place for hens that have reached their lifetime at factory farms, meaning they no longer are able to lay eggs for mass production. 

Johnson said the group lodged animal welfare complaints on Dec. 9 with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Maricopa County Attorney and Arizona Department of Agriculture. Both county agencies referred the complaint to the state agriculture department, Johnson said. 

An Arizona Department of Agriculture spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. 

Controversy around Hickman’s operations go beyond its property lines. One of its executives, Clint Hickman, is a Maricopa County supervisor for the district where the company’s main plants are located. 

Employees at Hickman’s, which contracts with the Department of Corrections to staff its operations with inmates, have complained about serious injuries on the job, Phoenix New Times reported

Residents and business owners in the area surrounding Hickman’s operations in the West Valley have for years complained to county, state and federal regulators of what they describe as putrid odor and toxic air coming from the industrial hen ranch. They filed a civil lawsuit alleging Hickman’s is a nuisance, and the company counter-sued them in 2017. The lawsuits were consolidated and are ongoing. 

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.