A property at which hens had died of starvation was described as "a death camp for chickens", the Dunedin District Court heard yesterday.

Thirty-four dead hens, and other sick hens, were found during an SPCA visit to the property, at Double Hill, Waitati, on June 9 last year, prosecuting counsel Bill Wright told the court.

Michael Joseph Wilson (40), unemployed, admitted recklessly ill-treating chickens resulting in them dying; and ill-treating chickens, at Waitati, between June 2 and 9 last year.

People had been sent to jail where dogs had died by starvation, Judge Stephen Coyle said remanding Wilson to June 1.


"Be under no illusion as to what might happen at sentence."

Mr Wright said complaints from the public resulted in an SPCA inspection of the property on June 2. There were about 200 hens on the property. About 20 hens had signs of stress and the hens were showing classic symptoms of starvation.

Wilson said he would be selling the hens. The 20 stressed hens would be euthanised.

Six days later, there was a complaint about a number of hens being released at a Sawyers Bay location at which Wilson had come to SPCA notice the previous year. Inspectors suspected Wilson may have released the hens from the Double Hill property so returned to Double Hill the next day to investigate.

On that occasion an estimated 100 hens could be seen.

There were sick, dying and dead hens.

Hens appeared to be looking for food. They gathered around the inspector's vehicle and a large number flew on to the open tail-gate, pecking at anything that resembled food. It was clear they were extremely hungry.

In one place a hen was pecking at two dead hens. In another place, a sick hen being pecked by another hen was not responding to the pecking. In a third place, there were eight dead hens and a sick hen with a few hens pecking at them. One hen was pecking at the open stomach cavity of a dead hen. Elsewhere, about 30 hens were gathered around two large feeders, both of which were empty. When the feeder lids were banged, hens apparently hungry and looking for food, came running from all over the property in response.

The only apparent water supply was a very dirty and muddy pond. All water containers found were empty.

The area was muddy, littered with junk and rubbish, and looked neglected.

In all, there were 34 dead hens and three sick hens.

The veterinary post mortem report indicated there was no evidence of the hens having been fed. It appeared the only content of their intestines was mud.

The veterinarian was most critical of the site and described it as "a death camp for chickens".

In explanation, Wilson recognised problems had occurred and blamed a variety of factors, including he had been let down by others and a lack of money.

Concerning the starvation of the hens, he maintained he had still been feeding them. But he acknowledged the amount of feed had been decreased.