The director of a free-range egg firm in the Highlands has been jailed for animal welfare and hygiene offences which led to the deaths of around 2000 hens.
Peter Armitage has been sent to prison for two years following a sentencing at Wick Sheriff Court after inspectors found a catalogue of failings at his farm, including dead hen carcasses and rat droppings.
The 41-year-old was also banned from keeping animals for 15 years as a result of the offences, which occurred between September 2016 and September 2017.
Armitage had owned and operated an egg laying unit trading as Caithness Free Range Eggs Ltd, which was based at Lochquoy Farm, Durran, by Castletown, Caithness.
A former 24-year-old employee Kyle Mackay was also sentenced and given a Community Payback Order requiring him to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.
Mackay, who was only 17 at the time the offences occurred, was employed as the farm manager and was in charge when Armitage was not working.
The court heard how the company came to the attention of Highland Council as a result of an anonymous call on July 7, 2017.
The call stated: “Rats and dead chickens lying everywhere the place is disgusting they need shut down, this place is not up to standards for any animal to live in, the poor chickens look like they are dying.”
As a result, an unannounced inspection was carried out by the council’s Environmental Health and Animal and Plant Health Agency on July 18 that same year.
The farm was found to be in a poor state of repair and very dirty with dead birds and parts of dead birds visible to inspectors as they walked around.
Pigs were found roaming the outbuildings and chicken houses, with chicken carcasses lying out in the open.
Inspectors noted chicken feet and feathers hanging out from the mouths of the pigs.
One of the chicken sheds was carpeted with what looked like a whole flock of decomposing birds and chicken carcasses were found within the egg collection areas.
Trays of collected eggs on benches were covered in bird faeces and rat droppings.
A farm worker said that the chickens had been dead for “about a month and a half.”
Inspectors returned for a second inspection the following day and found that the poultry and pigs had access to bait boxes which contained rat poison.
The environmental health officer spoke with Armitage and it was agreed that he would voluntarily cease trading with immediate effect.
He agreed not to offer or supply any eggs for sale which was subject to further engagements to rectify the issues.
The senior veterinary Inspector instructed Armitage to stop feeding the pigs raw eggs and prevent them from accessing the hen houses. He served a movement prevention notice on Armitage.
Later, on July 21, Environmental Health issued Armitage with a Remedial Action Notice (RAN), under the Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
The notice re-enforced the voluntary closure of the site and prohibited the operation of the egg grading and packing unit and the supply of eggs for sale.
Subsequent inspections and welfare monitoring visits uncovered further issues and eventually there was a voluntary depopulation of the site on September 5, 2017.
Both Armitage and Mackay were sentenced on Thursday, having previously pled guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to approximately 2000 adult hens by failing to provide them with sufficient food and water, resulting in their deaths.
They also admitted to allowing pigs to gain access to the hens, which resulted in the animals attacking, killing and consuming some of the birds.
In a separate charge, Armitage also admitted failing to keep the premises clean and maintained in a good condition.
He failed to ensure that adequate procedures were followed to prevent pests and fed eggs and eggshells to pigs and allowed pigs and chickens to consume broken eggs.
The court heard that he also failed to take measures to meet the needs of approximately 6000 hens.
He failed to provide a suitable diet and environment and did not house them separately to other animals or protect them from suffering, injury and disease.
Mackay pled to a further charge of failing to provide sufficient food and water to a calf which died.
Following the sentencing, Andy Shanks, procurator fiscal for Grampian, Highland and Islands, said: “The animal welfare and hygiene failings at Lochquoy Farm caused unnecessary suffering and pain to thousands of birds and introduced a significant public health risk through the supply of potentially contaminated eggs to wholesale and retail outlets across the Highland region.
“Peter Armitage and Kyle Mackay’s convictions were down to the collaborative multi-agency working involved in investigating and gathering evidence of these offences.
“I would like to thank Highland Council, the Animal & Plant Health Agency, and the Scottish Government Poultry Unit for the part they played in getting this outcome.
“We expect the highest standards of our food producers and are committed to working with enforcing authorities to ensure that those who do not meet these standards are held to account.”