February 25, 2007
ANIMAL rights activists who broke into Victoria's biggest battery-hen farm and stole 18 chickens have vowed to increase their guerilla strikes.
Protesters this week evaded a giant electric fence, guard dogs and security lights in a raid on Happy Hens farm at Meredith, about 40km north of Geelong, on Wednesday.
They say they saw illegal overcrowding, filthy conditions, birds eating dead birds and others stuck in manure pits.
Among the mostly university-student group was serial activist Patty Mark, 57, for whom eight warrants have been issued for her imprisonment.
``The birds were screaming, bodies were rotting in cages, bins of dead bodies are left in the sheds and sick and exhausted birds are left to fend for themselves in tiny cages,'' Ms Mark, founder of Animal Liberation Victoria, said.
Ms Mark said the sheds were being converted to hold 80,000 battery hens _ in a space that once held a quarter of that number.
But the egg industry is drawing its own battle lines, threatening to hit raiders with prosecutions.
And farmers believe they treat their birds well.
Happy Hens general manager Danny Colla said it was in his farm's best interests to treat birds well to encourage maximum production.
``They (the raiders) are just a minority group who make a lot of noise,'' Mr Colla said. ``The RSPCA has been here and found nothing.
``The industry's working on prosecuting them more and more.''
But Ms Mark urged anyone against animal cruelty to get involved in the fight.
``I really thought I'd see the end of battery cages in our lifetime,'' she said. ``But now I'm not so sure.
``We're going to up the ante. We're going to do as many rescues as we can.
``We believe what is happening in there is wrong and if the RSPCA's not going to ban it, we'll do the job.''
Wednesday's raiders described themselves as ``open rescuers'' _ they refuse to disguise their identities or conceal their activities.
While this leaves them open to prosecution, they say they're willing to go to jail for their cause.
Philosophy graduate Noah Hannibal, 30, said he had spent ``a few nights in jail'' for trespass, theft or disturbing the peace, but that charges had always been dropped.
``Especially when we do open rescue stuff, we've pretty much got a licence to do what we want,'' he said. ``Instead of arresting us, police have actually helped us get the (sick) birds out.''
The raiders have strategy meetings and use elaborate techniques to break into high security farming complexes.
Each member of a raiding party has a specific role _ from disabling an electric fence to documenting conditions in the shed or driving the ``getaway van''.
They use rubber mats to insulate against high voltage fence wires, feed guard dogs bones and wear biosecure-suits to avoid contaminating the farms.
Monash University arts student Callum Bryant, 20, said he wasn't scared of being prosecuted.
``I'd like everyone to be a vegetarian or, more specifically, a vegan. I'd like to stop cruelty to animals,'' he said. ``I'd love to do jail time. Jail's got some real prospects.''
The pilfered poultry have been given to homes around Melbourne as pets.
The RSPCA is investigating Animal Liberation's complaint against Happy Hens.