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300,000 Laying Hens Die From Heat At Rose Acres This Summer

Last updated on Thursday, September 6, 2012

(SEYMOUR) - More than 300,000 laying hens housed at Rose Acre Farms died this summer due to the intense heat.

Dan Davis and Aubrey Woods of The Tribune report that Tony Wesner, chief operating officer of Rose Acres says the forecast triggered a series of checks at the barns of Rose Acre Farms, including its sprawling 704,000-square-foot complex of 32 hen houses at Cort Acres west of Seymour. Employees checked ventilation and water systems.

Temperatures reached 104 degrees and stayed there for several days and only cooled to about 98 degrees at night according to the National Weather Service.

Paul Brennan, executive vice president of Purdue University-based Indiana State Poultry Association, said the loss of hens at Cort Acres this summer - and elsewhere in Indiana and the Midwest - was big and rare.

This summer's high temperatures and large number of heat-related hen deaths have at least two Indiana egg producers, including Rose Acre, studying how to fight the possibility that extreme heat will return in coming summers.

The 300,000 dead hens at Cort Acres, out of a total of 3 million hens, recently prompted a call for a criminal investigation into animal cruelty and neglect by a national animal-rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Jackson County Sheriff's Department has no plans to investigate and Sheriff Mike Carothers says it's a matter of the weather and Mother Nature.

Dan Paden a senior research associate with PETA disagrees saying Rose Acres employees were negligent.

Indiana's animal cruelty laws exempt what are termed acceptable farm management practices from criminal prosecution. PETA said in its letter to Carothers that Rose Acre should not be protected from those exclusions.

Rose Acre Farms says it was not negligent in June and took steps to protect its birds.

Wesner declined to attach a dollar estimate to the company's immediate - and continuing - financial losses from the deaths.

Hoosier poultry producers estimate the cost of replacement hens alone at between $2 and $4 each, or about $600,000 to $1.2 million in Rose Acre's case. That doesn't take into account the lost egg production.

Wesner says it will take about 18 months or longer to get production back to where it should be.

Insurance will offset a small portion of the loss, Wesner says, but he declined to say how much.

And there are no federal disaster relief programs to assist livestock producers with heat-related deaths.

Wesner says Rose Acres is not the only farm suffering, corn and soybean growers and cattle and swine producers, also saw heat-related deaths.

Rose Acre is focused on improving its Cort Acres facility should extreme heat return next summer.

The company expects to invest in equipment changes over the next six to eight months at Cort Acres to be better prepared should next summer bring another bout of extreme heat to southern Indiana, Wesner says.

Options include what are called cool cells and high-pressured misting systems, equipment more commonly found at livestock barns in the South, where weather conditions seen here this summer are more common.

Rose Acre uses both systems at its farms in Georgia and North Carolina, but not in Indiana.

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