Leicestershire County Council’s Trading Standards Service prosecuted Hudson and Sanders Limited after the birds died at a farm at Colston Basset, near Melton.
It happened at Hose Lodge Farm following a computer malfunction in a broiler shed ventilation system nearly two years ago.
The firm pleaded guilty to four charges under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in a hearing at Leicester Magistrates Court yesterday (Wednesday).
At the time, 50,000 chickens were being kept in a large shed when there was a failure in the systems regulating air flow, which is vital for the welfare of the birds.
The court heard that inlets on the side of the building closed during a rest period for the birds in the afternoon but another tunnel ventilation system failed to open, creating a sealed unit.
On what was a warm day, the temperature within the shed rose rapidly. The birds could not cool down because of the ventilation failure, causing them heat stress, suffering and death.
An alarm sounded when the temperature rose to 37 degrees and staff were alerted but council investigators said that should have been set to go off at 27 degrees.
At the time of the incident, the farm manager was on leave but still attended as he lived on the site. A relief manager provided by Hudson and Sanders Limited, had left the site to take a break when the incident occurred. By the time staff were able to get into the shed, 27,249 of the chickens had died.
The council prosecuted the company for being negligent in its care of the birds, which were being farmed for their meat.
Trading standards also said the company had failed to ensure there were enough staff to look after the chickens and that they were not trained to the level they needed to be, which led to a situation where they didn’t know what to do in time.
The county council argued the offence was aggravated because an Animal and Plant Health Agency vet had visited the farm in November 2019 and raised concerns about there not being sufficient staff or a ventilation plan.
District Judge Nick Watson described the 2020 incident as ‘a disaster’ and said those birds that survived would also have suffered.
He fined the company £44,000 and ordered it to pay the county council’s costs of £12,634.
In mitigation, solicitors for the defendant said the company, which managed poultry operation on behalf of the farm’s owner, regretted the incident.
The court heard Hudson and Sanders Limited had no previous conviction for animal welfare offences and had an otherwise excellent reputation in the industry.
After the hearing, the county council’s head of regulatory services, Gary Connors, said: “This was an awful but thankfully rare incident in terms of the scale of unnecessary suffering.“However, we hope the level of fine prompts businesses operating in this sector to review their operations to ensure they have adequate staffing and procedures in place to avoid such a distressing incident happening again.”