Hen confinement bill could impact Wendell’s Diemand Farm

  • Fresh eggs gathered in the henhouse at Diemand Farm in Wendell. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Laying hens at Diemand Farm in Wendell. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Co-owner Anne Diemand Bucci of Diemand Farm in Wendell collects eggs in the henhouse. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A hen in the laying boxes that line the walls of the henhouse at Diemand Farm. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/29/2021 3:27:07 PM
Modified: 10/29/2021 3:27:17 PM

WENDELL — The owners of the only Massachusetts farm affected by the passage of a 2016 anti-cruelty ballot initiative worry a hen-confinement bill heading back to the state Senate for consideration will prevent the price of their eggs from leveling off with those from large corporate farms.

Anne Diemand Bucci said the business she co-owns with her siblings was forced to change its practices, cutting in half its number of egg layers to 1,500, following residents’ overwhelming vote for the referendum five years ago. The thought had been that the in-store cost of Diemand Farm eggs would eventually even out with that of competitors, but that hope is threatened by a bill the state House of Representatives approved 156-1 to put Massachusetts in line with larger egg-producing states that have put in place newer standards for hen confinement.

The bill aims to amend the 2016 law to define or redefine various industry terms, including “cage-free housing system,” “multi-tiered aviary,” “partially slatted system,” and “usable floor space.” For egg-laying hens, it defines and provides dimensional requirements for differing types of enclosures, including multi-tiered henhouses and partially slatted cage-free housing systems.

Single-level aviaries must still have at least 1.5 square feet of floor space per hen, and multi-tiered aviaries and cage-free housing systems providing unfettered vertical space must have at least 1 square foot per hen.

The bill would also authorize the state Department of Agricultural Resources to enforce these regulations and refer violations to the attorney general. The Senate approved a different version of the bill in June.

Passage of the 2016 ballot initiative prohibited farm owners or operators from knowingly confining egg-laying hens in a way that prevents them from “lying down, standing up, fully extending (their) limbs or turning around freely.” The law, which required farms to come into compliance by 2022, created a minimum size for cages.

Diemand Bucci said the farm typically spent $500 a year on shavings placed underneath the hens, but that figure has since ballooned to $10,000 “because we have them on the floor.”

“We have to go in once a week (to replace shavings),” she said. “Where they eat and drink is where they poop.”

Diemand Bucci said the price of the farm’s eggs doesn’t even cover the costs of labor anymore.

State Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, was the only representative to vote against the bill. She explained she thinks it is wrong and will cater to farms owned by big corporations.

“It was just me standing with the farmers,” she said. “I love our farmers.”

Whipps said she was once a restaurant owner and purchased her eggs from Diemand Farm to support a local business.

“I just believe this particular extension was done to assist larger, corporate, out-of-state farms — the 2-million-chicken farms, instead of the 2,000-chicken farms,” she said. “And I’m going to side with the little guy all day long.”

State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said she voted for the bill because she feels it puts Massachusetts in line with other egg-producing states and she wants to “ensure the supply of eggs into Massachusetts is not disrupted.”

Diemand Bucci said her family asked Whipps to vote against the bill. She blames misleading advertising campaigns from the Humane Society of the United States for misinforming people about the 2016 ballot initiative.

“I don’t think that they’re honorable people,” she said.

But Laura Hagen, the Massachusetts state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said this legislation would vastly improve the treatment of egg-laying hens and would help an additional 2 million of them per year.

“The animal welfare provisions of the legislation ensure that farms allow hens to perch, scratch, dust bathe and lay eggs in a nest box — critical behavioral upgrades for these birds,” she said in an emailed statement.

Seventy-seven percent of Massachusetts voters approved the 2016 ballot initiative. Diemand Bucci said this was a clear indication that most egg consumers would “vote with their money” and give their business to a farm they deemed humane to animals.

In 2016, Brian Bailey, who identified himself as a third-generation Diemand, said Massachusetts imports 98% of its eggs.

Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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