DICKERSON, Md. (ABC7) — A Montgomery County poultry farm selling meat and eggs to customers has been shut down amid reports of filthy conditions, cannibalism and avian diseases among the flock.
Farmer Jianjun Feng, 55, of Dickerson, has been charged with 46 counts of animal cruelty. All told, the charges carry more than 11 years of prison time.
Earlier this month, Montgomery County Animal Control received a complaint about Happy Farm, located along Old Hundred Road in Dickerson, near Sugarloaf Mountain.
In criminal charging documents obtained by ABC7, investigators noted dead chickens and bones on the pasture floor. In the processing room, police observed intestines in a bucket swarming with flies, plus birds "licking blood off the floor." In another area, three ducks were eating a dead bird.
A handful of Feng’s chickens had a slouched posture, drooping wings, dull-swollen eyes, dirty feathers, and trouble breathing. One was described as being "so skinny it looked like a skeleton." Police counted approximately 500 ducks, 200 chickens and 120 geese on the entire rural property.
With Feng's permission, investigators took two of the chickens to Best Friends’ Veterinary Hospital in Gaithersburg for treatment. It was there that one chicken died, its body sent to a state laboratory in Frederick for testing. A necropsy showed the chicken died from a combination of pneumonia, septicemia, severe emaciation and dehydration.
Additional testing determined a number of Feng's chickens had Avian Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), Mycoplasma Gallisepticum (MG) and Mycoplasma Synoviae (MS). According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, IBV, MG and MS are highly contagious and deadly. They predominantly affect a bird’s respiratory systems, but can also impact joints.
"They’re very depressed, they stop eating and drinking, producing eggs," said Michael Radebaugh, a veterinarian with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "These infections can include mortality also."
Scientific research has found consuming poultry infected with IBV, MS and MG poses no threat to human health. However, animal rights advocates argue there is a "nasty factor" in eating infected meat, plus contend no one should support a business with an inadequate standard of quality and treatment of living creatures.
Farms in Montgomery County that sell meat and animal byproducts, including eggs, must have licenses from both the county and state. Slaughtering of animals requires additional licensing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Site inspections and animal testing are common protocols prior to a farm obtaining such a license.
During an on-camera interview with ABC7, Feng stated he believes in his innocence. When asked why a number of his chickens were found dead on the farm, Feng explained that foxes and raccoons commonly sneak into the pens at night, attacking the helpless birds. When asked why he did not have proper licenses for operating a commercial slaughter operation, Feng stated the farm was new, seemingly suggesting he had simply not gotten around to it. When asked if he knew deadly diseases were spreading among his flock, Feng declined comment.
"I have no answer, I have no answer," Feng said while standing beside an orange-colored quarantine sign posted to a farm fence.
Investigators note that none of the deceased chickens had missing limbs or feathers consistent with a fox attack. They also noted that Feng had no veterinarian records.
Prior to media coverage of the animal neglect case, Happy Farm had a 4.7 star rating on Google.
"Lovely place where the owner raise free run chicken and ducks. Good quality for source and nice staff. Highly recommended if you want a healthy and taste [sic] meal," one customer wrote.
"It's a really nice place and the food is awesome! We had lunch there and my family loved it," a different customer commented.
On Friday, Feng posted his $10,000 unsecured personal bond, which required no upfront money, but rather a written promise to continue showing up to court.
According to court records, Feng was born in China. He is married and has a young daughter. He stated his annual farming income is $38,000. No defense attorney was listed in court paperwork.