Barn invasion shakes farmers’ sense of security

FORT MACLEOD, Alta. — A worker at the Jumbo Valley Colony turkey farm was going about his business Sept. 2, checking each of the nine barns for adequate feed and water to supply some 30,000 turkeys.

He opened the door to one barn and found about 30 people seated along the walls holding signs and cellphones. Wearing shirts with the words Liberation Lockdown, they occupied the barn and operation for about six hours before leaving with some 60 other protesters who had displayed animal liberation signs along nearby Highway 2.

Mark Tschetter, minister at Jumbo Lake Colony, has barely slept since then. The invasion has rattled his sense of security and privacy and has outraged other farmers concerned about trespass, biosecurity and what seems like an ongoing assault on their livelihoods.

“It’s pretty scary not just for us here but for anybody that’s got a turkey farm, a dairy barn, a pig barn, what these people can do. And I think we need government backup. We need to get this thing solved,” said Tschetter.

“I think we’ll be laying charges. We have to. If we don’t, we’ll have a bunch of producers upset. This speaks for all the turkey producers and poultry producers and dairy. We have to do something with these people. This is not good.”

He has received dozens of calls from other producers encouraging the colony to press charges. Tschetter and turkey production manager Frank Hofer met with Fort Macleod RCMP officers last week in aid of that process. Tschetter said charges of break and enter, mischief and trespass are being considered. Extortion is one other possibility because the protesters demanded and received five live turkeys.

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Turkey Farmers of Canada, other agricultural organizations and individual farmers have encouraged the laying of charges. Some have been critical of the colony for “going too easy” on the protesters, Tschetter said, adding that the RCMP encouraged them to press charges as well.

However, RCMP Sgt. Bryan Mucha said Sept. 5 that the matter is still under investigation.

“We’ll have to work through our investigation and try and figure out exactly how we want to proceed and discuss it with the crown prosecutor because at the end of the day they are the ones that prosecute the charges if charges are laid.”

Mucha acknowledged the protest ended peacefully “but not everybody’s happy.”

The farming operation was posted with “no trespassing” and “restricted access” signs indicating permission is required before entering. Hofer said biosecurity could easily have been compromised although no ill effects among the turkeys had been noted.

“They walked right in the side door,” said Hofer, indicating a gate beside the barn in which the protesters sat. “They were sitting there trying to get the birds to come to them.”

The group demanded that media be allowed to enter the barns and document conditions. They further asked for assurances that protesters would not be charged and that five live turkeys be given to them so the birds’ lives could be saved.

An RCMP officer, colony members and three protesters subsequently walked through every barn, with the RCMP taking charge.

“We are very bothered by that because we didn’t even get to reason with these people,” said Tschetter. “It was between us and the RCMP. I see the RCMP’s point. They were trying to keep things calm. But on the other hand, we feel like (the protesters) got what they wanted.”

Television media were given access and results aired on later newscasts. Protesters live-streamed part of the event and later posted photos and video to social media.

Tschetter said there were several dead birds in evidence that day, another that was lame and one with a tumor, and that none of that is uncommon in turkey operations. Dead birds are incinerated on the farm.

“I don’t know how good a person could make it to their (the protesters’) conditions. I think they would still find fault. They’re out to do something else. It seems like to me, the way they were chanting along the fence, they believe the animal has just as much rights as we, that the animal is a human. They’re not concerned about the safety of these animals.”

A video posted by one of the protesters said the barn worker had burned the lame bird alive. Other videos showed what the voice-overs described as deplorable conditions.

Alberta SPCA confirmed Sept. 4 that it had received a complaint involving “a large-scale turkey farm in southern Alberta” and it is investigating.

The organization doesn’t reveal specifics on such complaints unless charges are laid, said communications manager Dan Kobe. Tschetter confirmed an SPCA officer had visited the farm and had concluded the accusation of burning birds while alive was false.

Hofer said he will now strengthen security measures at the farm and ensure barns and gates are locked every night.

“That’s the first thing but I don’t know for sure how we’ll go about (protecting) each barn. These are older barns” that the colony purchased from another owner about 20 years ago. As an older facility that provides outdoor access to the turkeys, implementing stringent security is a challenge. Hofer said he is also going to repaint the “no trespassing” signs.

Days after the protest, he and Tschetter said they are still rattled and unsettled, though grateful no people or birds came to harm.

“The biggest damage I would say that they did was mentally to ourselves,” Tschetter said. “I haven’t slept a single night. Mentally it has really taken a toll.”

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