Bedford egg ‘mega farm’ under investigation after video emerges of “distressing and appalling conditions”

Bird Bros' Sunny Farm, Swineshead, Bedford Borough. Image: Animal Justice Project
Bird Bros' Sunny Farm, Swineshead, Bedford Borough. Image: Animal Justice Project

A video filmed inside a Bedford Borough farm, which supplies eggs to Lidl supermarket, has emerged showing what investigators have called “distressing footage” with hens deprived of sunlight and confined to wire mesh floors.

The Animal Justice Project, a prominent animal protection organisation, released the shocking footage from a five-month-long investigation at Sunny Farm in Swineshead.

Some readers may find the below story, video and images distressing.

The video shows hens, many with significant feather loss, in overcrowded and squalid conditions, some caught in the mesh of their cages and visibly incapacitated.

One worker is filmed roughly slamming birds into cages and hitting hens with shovels. Deceased and decomposing hens are also seen on the shed floor.

“The footage from Bird Bros exposes yet another example of how supermarkets’ welfare claims translate to nothing for farmed animals. The distressing scenes underscore the urgent need for immediate legislative action,” said Tayana Simons, Campaigner for the Animal Justice Project.

Tayana continues, “Laying hens are tragically exploited as ‘egg machines’ within the egg industry, enduring immense suffering. Confined to ‘enriched cages,’ their existence is anything but enriched.

“Our footage unveils scenes of unrelenting distress, agony, and death. These hens endure deplorable conditions—crowded spaces, filth, mites, noise, limited light, panic and abuse. Hens are social, intelligent and sensitive animals who don’t deserve to suffer like this.

“It is essential that consumers see the grim reality of the suffering that they’re funding when they buy animal products. When animals are exploited for their ‘products’, their wellbeing will always come last, that‘s why we implore consumers to consider adopting a plant-based diet.”

Concealed cameras

Their investigation at Sunny Farm used concealed cameras and placed an undercover worker at the farm.

The scenes have been strongly condemned by veterinarian Dr. Andrew Knight, who emphasised the inhumane and unethical treatment of these animals.

In one scene, a worker is seen wringing a large chicken’s neck with his bare hands. The chicken subsequently flaps and moves her head.

“Studies indicate that potential consciousness, and therefore suffering, may persist for a significant number of seconds after cervical dislocation has been performed,” said Dr. Knight

“Accordingly, its use without prior stunning to induce unconsciousness is not recommended for the routine slaughter of poultry. After dislocation, the chicken is hung upside down by its legs, flapping its wings repeatedly and attempting to raise its head, indicating the persistence of consciousness, accompanied by severe pain and stress.”

Owned by Birdbros, a supplier to Lidl, the farm has 15 sheds with colony cages, sometimes referred to as enriched cages, with space for 52,000 birds each.

It is estimated there are over half a million hens across the site.

The footage shows significant numbers of eggs smashed on the floor, and eggs awaiting collection that were being touched by decomposing chicken carcasses.

It’s now being reported that the farm has been stripped of its right to use the British Egg Industry Council’s Lion stamp of approval, designed to guarantee high standards.

However, the stamp was still showing on the Bird Bros website’s standards page, alongside the RSPCA’s Assured Certification, at the time of publication.

It is also reported that the British Egg Industry Council has sent in a team to investigate after being made aware of the footage. They have said that ‘disciplinary proceedings are underway’.

We asked Bird Bros Ltd about the footage. A spokesperson told us, “Bird Bros has been producing eggs for more than 50 years and has always taken pride in achieving high standards.

“The footage, which is alleged to have been taken inside one of our poultry houses, shows hens with poor feather cover. Hens with this amount of feather cover is not typical on our farm, but they do not appear to show any signs of pecking or injury.

“The hens do not appear “crammed in”, and our houses are always kept to a comfortable temperature with fresh feed and water readily available.

“The footage of the dead hens and rough handling is far below the standards we expect on our farm, the matter has already been taken up with the staff members concerned to ensure our standards do not fall below our expectations.”

UK egg industry

Animal Justice Project says the footage shows a grim reality faced by millions of hens in Britain, reigniting the call for the government to ban hen cages, a demand they say is echoed by over 100,000 signatures to a Government petition calling for the end to the ‘cage age’ for all farmed animals.

Animal Justice Project has launched this investigation as the inaugural instalment in a series scheduled to unfold over the coming months.

The UK egg industry supplies approximately 12 billion eggs annually, 28% of which are from caged hens [12]. Whilst the European Union plans to eliminate all cages by 2027 [13], the UK has yet to make a decisive move in that direction.

In the UK, most new enriched colony cages are designed to hold between 40 and 80 birds. According to the farm manager, Sunny Farm has 60 birds in each cage, this gives them an area roughly equivalent to an A4 sheet each.

The hens are deprived of sunlight and the opportunity to engage in their natural behaviours.

Most UK supermarkets, including Lidl, have committed to moving to cage-free eggs and products containing eggs by 2025 but the implementation of these bans is left to retailers.

Animal Justice Project is now insisting that the UK government aligns with the European Commission’s intentions to ban cages for all farmed animals and consider imposing restrictions on imports from caged systems.

Lidl, who is supplied by Sunny Farm say on their website that they “are committed to protecting animal welfare, so we work hard to ensure that all animals in our supply chain live a good life.”

We asked Lidl for a comment on the footage filmed at Sunny Farm. They say the farm is a very small supplier that only supplies into one of their 13 distribution centres.

A Lidl spokesperson added, “We take animal welfare incredibly seriously and we expect our suppliers to meet all recognised farm assurance standards, including the British Lion Code of Practice.

“On receiving this information we immediately launched an investigation into Sunny Farm and will be working with third parties to undertake urgent audits to ensure the welfare standards expected are being met.

“We will not be taking any more product from this farm until the investigation has been concluded to our satisfaction.”