Shocking footage shows RSPCA-approved workers kicking and stamping on hens with an animal rights group claiming similar incidents have been reported at farms in Oxfordshire.

The secret footage of workers known as 'catcher gangs' was taken at Kettleby Farm in Leicestershire which supplies some supermarket chains.

RSPCA Assured has since suspended the company, Norfolk-based abattoir AD Harvey, while it investigates the alleged abuse.

The Oxford Mail has asked the RSPCA which farms in Oxfordshire are raising concerns but this has not been disclosed yet.

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Oxford Mail: Shocking footage shows RSPCA-approved workers kicking and stamping on hens

AD Harvey said that staff in the footage are no longer employed and their remaining staff are undergoing retraining.

Catcher gangs are used at chicken farms across the UK as part of a depopulation process when chickens come to the end of their natural egg-laying life at around 76 to 80 weeks old.

The birds are then usually used for cheap meat, soups, stock, or stews as a 'by-product' of the egg industry.

The video was released by animal rights group The Animal Justice Project, who
claim that in one 'shocking' incident, around 30,000 hens at the end of their egg-laying life were caught in one night at the farm.

Oxford Mail: Shocking footage shows RSPCA-approved workers kicking and stamping on hens

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They also say that similar incidents have been reported at farms in Kent and Bedfordshire.

Veterinary Professor of Animal Welfare, Andrew Knight, says that the footage shows “harsh and inhumane” treatment of the birds.

He said: “Workers engaged in incorrect and injurious handling techniques, including kicking and hitting hens, treading on them, and violently throwing them against shed walls.

"Some hens were severely injured or dead, while others experienced extreme distress, being carried upside down or by one leg.

"Additionally, workers were observed slamming doors onto hens, causing potential harm.

"These actions are not in line with humane or ethical treatment of these highly sentient birds and likely violate UK animal welfare legislation.”

Oxford Mail: Shocking footage shows RSPCA-approved workers kicking and stamping on hens

Catcher gangs have faced criticism for their method of carrying the birds by their legs inverted - allegedly compromising their welfare.

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In more footage obtained by Animal Justice Project, as many as nine birds at a farm in Canterbury were seen being carried in a single hand

The gangs also breach Defra Codes of Practice in footage obtained at farms in Oxford and Bedfordshire by failing to handle the birds individually when they are removed from cages.

Catchers filmed by the group also appear to be aware of their inappropriate methods, with one catcher at one point saying that holding the birds by their legs weakens them so much that once placed on the ground, they suffocate within three minutes.

Another catcher added: "It only takes one idiot to just come in here and film what we do... and all the animal rights lot will be down here.

"They all think chickens walk around in fields, think 20 chickens in a field will feed the nation."

Oxford Mail: Shocking footage shows RSPCA-approved workers kicking and stamping on hens

Animal Justice Project are now calling on the RSPCA to cut all ties with AD Harvey.

Claire Palmer, spokeswoman for Animal Justice Project says: "Today, we expose some of the most appalling acts ever captured on film.

"Faced with indisputable violence against hens, the RSPCA must take decisive action—beginning with the permanent severing of ties with AD Harvey and the launch of criminal proceedings against potential law violators.

"The distressing, breakneck speed at which hens, at the close of their productive lives, are nightly captured by gangs under the watch even of the RSPCA underscores the urgency for a shift away from animal agriculture.

"It's a compelling call for a transition to plant-based farming, prioritising compassion over cruelty in our food production systems."

Oxford Mail: Shocking footage shows RSPCA-approved workers kicking and stamping on hens

Morrisons, who are supplied by Kettleby Farm, claims to be the first supermarket to solely supply free-range eggs - but has no policy on the catching of egg-laying hens.

Robert Hofmann, Morrisons Egg Buyer, said: “Improving animal welfare is very important to customers and it’s very important to us."

In a statement issued by AD Harvey, the company said that the behaviour of their staff had fallen 'below standards'.

A spokesperson wrote: "A.D. Harvey have been made aware of a film which was produced, covertly, by an activist working on behalf of an animal rights organisation.

"The edited footage seeks to compare RSPCA Assured standards with what the activist actually witnessed whilst ‘working’ as part of our team at a poultry farm.

"As a result, RSPCA Assured have suspended A.D. Harvey Catching teams from their scheme.

"They have also advised us that at present they 'are not able to disclose the footage or any further information on this matter at this time.'

"However, we are now aware that the film is in the public domain and as such have now viewed it.

"The film clearly shows some members of the A.D. Harvey bird catching team acting in a manner which was completely at odds with the standards of animal welfare to which we require our staff to work to.

"Those staff members are no longer employed by A.D. Harvey, and all other members of our bird catching staff are being retrained in the correct procedures.

"The partners of A.D. Harvey totally condemn any breaches of animal welfare legislation and our teams are trained to deliver a service which ensures that birds are treated with respect and care.

"We will work closely with both RSPCA Assured and all of our customers to ensure that our teams act in a professional and caring manner at all times."

An RSPCA Assured spokesperson said: "We are appalled by this footage.

"It is totally unacceptable for any animal to be treated in this way and we have reported this incident to the Animal and Plant Health Agency - an official government body that is fully equipped and resourced to investigate and take action.

"The behaviour in this footage goes against everything RSPCA Assured stands for and falls significantly below the high standards we demand of our members.

"We have suspended the membership of the catching company involved, pending investigation.

"This means that the workers in the footage, as well as all other employees of the catching company, cannot work with any animals being raised under the RSPCA Assured scheme.

"To our knowledge the individuals shown in the footage are no longer employed by AD Harvey.

"There are four farming sites featured in this footage, only one of which, Kettleby Farm, is RSPCA Assured certified.

"We are urgently investigating this farm, as well as the associated transport company and abattoir, and are unable to comment further whilst our enquiries are ongoing.

"We take complaints of poor animal welfare about any of our RSPCA Assured members very seriously and would always urge anyone with any concerns to contact us straight away, without delay.

"This is so that we can immediately investigate, visit the premises and address any welfare issues as a priority."