By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director
I would like to call your attention to an important animal welfare issue taking place right now. Each spring, Tractor Supply Company makes thousands of baby chicks available for purchase at their local stores. If you’re not familiar, it’s a chain of home/gardening/farm supply stores. Unfortunately, the living conditions for these babies are leading to high rates of sickness and death.
I recently visited my local Tractor Supply Company store to purchase garden boxes. I really enjoy these stores and appreciate their pet-friendly policies. However, on this trip, a foul smell assaulted me, and I realized the source was a tower of “brooders” filled with live chicks.
I was appalled to find a half-dead chick gasping for breath. I informed an employee who was visibly upset and told me this happens all the time. She removed the chick from the enclosure, but it was covered in droppings, lifeless and clearly only had a few minutes left to live. She told me the employees spend a lot of time trying to help the chicks; cleaning out their tiny enclosures and trying to keep them healthy.
Tractor Supply Company and their staff clearly want the best for animals. Their website even promotes the new “brooder” design, stating they keep the chicks warm and healthy. However, a quick internet search turns up many complaints from patrons, particularly in response to this year’s use of “brooders”.
From what I have been able to learn, the “brooders” work well in a controlled environment, but each store is unique. With locations throughout the country, it is simply impossible to keep the environmental conditions correct for the chicks. Without onsite veterinarians at every store, optimal conditions are not maintained, and chicks are not adequately attended to when they become sick, a clear violation of anti-cruelty laws.
Here in New York, where the store I visited is located, several legal protections exist for baby chicks, including anti-cruelty laws that apply to chicks, the same as they do to pets. Furthermore, NY article 26 agriculture and markets law section 354 outlines legal guidelines for the sale of chicks, requiring proper brooding facilities (tractor supply facilities fall far short of that), and prohibiting the sale of chicks under two months of age or in quantities less than 6 (the baby chicks being sold were days old, at most). Violation of these laws are misdemeanors in the state of New York, but unfortunately, stores can pass liability to employees by claiming they are responsible for the chick’s care.
Right now, the SPCA International team is drafting a letter to Tractor Supply Company to ask them to address this situation. We’ll keep insisting until something changes and will make the SPCA International community aware if we begin a petition.
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to get involved:
Thank you for learning more and taking action on this critical animal welfare issue. My sincerest hope is that Tractor Supply Company will change their practices to improve the health and safety of chicks or will stop selling live animals.