Turlock: The Documentary is about the rescue of chickens from the largest animal neglect case in U.S. history, and the dedicated activists willing to do anything to save as many lives as possible. When Northern California animal sanctuary Animal Place found out a factory farm in nearby Turlock had closed, and 50,000 hens had been abandoned and left to die without food and water, rescuers spring into action against considerable odds, including a dramatic standoff with local authorities, to save as many lives as they can.
Filmmaker Keegan Kuhn of First Spark Media shared the story of the rescue with TNTSU.
It was Tuesday, February 21, 2012. A news story broke about an egg farm outside of Turlock, California owned by A&L Poultry. A&L Poultry had abandoned 50,000 hens in barren battery cages for more than two weeks without food.
I was one of the first animal advocates to arrive at the farm and was promptly escorted off the property by state officials, who told me that my help was not desired or needed. An estimated one-third of the chickens had already died of starvation, and the state was in the process of gassing to death all surviving animals.
Being the hardheaded activist I am, I camped out in front of the farm overnight waiting for an opportunity to help. By morning, a crew of animal rescuers from animal sanctuary organization Animal Place had assembled at the farm.
We pleaded with officials to allow us to come onto the property and help any animals we could. We bombarded the local director of animal control, who now had authority over the animals, with mass call-ins. As the hours ticked by and we were forced to stand and watch helplessly as state officials killed hundreds of animals right in front of us, our patience started to wane. We were getting ourselves ready for an action of civil disobedience in plain view of the police and state officials to get as many animals as we could out of there before being arrested.
As our numbers grew and the authorities caught wind of our plans, Kim Sturla, executive director of Animal Place, was able to put pressure on the county’s animal control director – on live TV. We were granted access to all the “savable” hens, as determined by the state veterinarian on site.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, we were able to save over 4,400 hens from the horror that had been their lives trapped in wire cages.
I was involved with the initial rescue, but continued to work for months alongside Animal Place staff, who brought back more than 4,000 chickens to their two sanctuaries. We worked 12 to 15 hour days, every day of the week. When I wasn’t cleaning barns, building perches, helping with sick hens, or sadly burying those who had not made it, I was trying to document the rescue effort.
When the one-year anniversary of the rescue started to approach, I wanted to create a short film commemorating the monumental efforts of all the people involved in what became the largest animal rescue in California history. I had intended to make a 10 to 12 minute long video, but as I began editing the footage and interviews I had shot, I could not bring myself to cut the story down to such a limited time frame.
It felt like a great disservice to the animals’ and rescuers’ story to make anything short of a feature documentary film for them.
I came away from the rescue with a profound desire to increase my efforts to raise awareness of how animals are used on farms. I want to use the film TURLOCK to help facilitate a growing conversation about our view of non-human animals in our society.
The brutality that the hens from the Turlock rescue endured at the hands of their abusers is not an isolated incident. That is animal farming. And regardless of how any animal is raised, whether in filthy “factory” farms or on perceived “humane” farms, each and every one of those animals is violently killed at just a fraction of their normal life span.
I became Vegan almost 18 years ago and at that time there was only one vegan egg substitute. Today with exciting developments such as Hampton Creek Foods’ Beyond Eggs products, I truly feel that the needless suffering of hens on egg farms will become a thing of the past. As people being to wake up to the reality of what it actually takes to get an egg to your plate, there will be a massive shift towards a more compassionate and just world.
I want to thank Keegan for his time, and Gary Smith of Evolotus PR for reaching out to me! To host a screening of Turlock, or find one near you, visit www.turlockrescue.org.