Millions of chickens may be killed as new law deadline approaches

SAN DIEGO - Egg farming has been in Frank Hilliker's blood for three generations.

"Being a farmer is in my blood. This has been in the family since 1942, and I hope to pass it along to my nieces or nephews," said Hilliker. "I do it because I love it."

However, Hilliker's Ranch Fresh Eggs is exactly the kind of egg farm Proposition 2 was designed to target -- with chickens next to each other, unable to spread their wings.

Prop. 2 passed with a huge majority, but it also carries huge consequences -- 180 days in jail and $1,000 a day in fines. It's left local farmers like Hilliker at a loss.

"I'm very confused," said Hilliker. "The problem with Proposition 2 is that they don't give us any guidelines. Basically, Proposition 2 said you have to give the chickens more room … well, what's a little more room?"

For a family operation, the farm is actually pretty advanced. There are 25,000 chickens at the farm, and every day 16,000 eggs roll down a hatch to later be washed and sorted. But even at this level of production, the farm is struggling to survive.

"No farmer wants to be the first to invest money and then find out what he did is in violation of the law," explained Eric Larson of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

Larson said local farmers are hoping a lawsuit filed by the egg producers will lead to some answers. The suit claims Prop. 2 is "unconstitutionally vague," and Larson said either way the deadline is in 25 months.

The Farm Bureau believes the majority of small egg farmers will be forced to pack up and euthanize millions of chickens before the deadline rather than risk jail time.

"All the estimations are it's going to take three years to go through the permitting process, get loans and actually build the new cages," said Larson. "So we're literally out of time right now."

The Humane Society of America is unsympathetic to the deadline. Officials told 10News it's not acceptable that chickens continue to suffer and that "egg producers should be working rapidly to comply with the clear mandates of Prop. 2"

Hilliker said it's anything but clear.

"It makes no sense to me; tell me what you want," said Hilliker. "If you're not going to tell me what you want, I can't change."

Hilliker said he remembers when there were 10 egg farms in Lakeside. Now this farm is the only one left, and he said he's willing to do whatever it takes to allow the farm to stick around.

"I'm proud to be a farmer, I'm very proud," said Hilliker. "I think it's a noble profession. I do it because I like it, not because I'm getting rich at it."

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