Spring 2003 Poultry Press << Previous - Next >>

Employee Describes Deliberate Torture of Chickens at
Tyson Slaughter Plant

". . . just a part of a regular night's work."


Photo by Carol McCormick for UPC

"I just visited your site and support your work. I appreciate you putting my statement on your website and wish there were more sites like it to reach more people. The only way to stop this kind of thing is to bring it out into the open for people to see it for what it is." - Virgil Butler, former Tyson employee to United Poultry Concerns, 3/14/03

In an affidavit signed on January 30, 2003 to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, former Tyson employee Virgil Butler said that the Tyson chicken slaughter plant where he worked the nightshift for five years in Grannis, Arkansas, from 1997 to 2002, was a "nightmare."

"My name is Virgil Butler. I worked at the Tyson plant in Grannis, Arkansas from July, 1997 until November 12, 2002. I worked on the night shift in the Receiving department as a live-hanger [of birds] as well as on the kill-floor. I personally witnessed many acts of cruelty toward the chickens by employees of the plant on a nightly basis.

"One of the most recent problems that I observed was the night shift superintendent, Richard Frasier, turning down the stunner and ordering the employees to leave it down. This machine is the device that is supposed to stun [paralyze] chickens before they are killed. Turning it down results in the chickens missing the killing machine [because they avert their heads] and evading the killer [the human backup] behind the machine, so that they end up being scalded to death by water in the scalding tank. The scalding tank loosens up the feathers so that they can be picked out. The chickens are supposed to be dead before they reach this point. I as well as Ed Taylor (my immediate supervisor), Troy Shepmann, and Aron Harris (fellow employees) argued this action with Richard, who refused to stop doing this. . . .

"I was responsible for trying to slit the throats of the chickens the machine missed on the nights I worked the killing room. Our line runs 182 shackles per minute. It is physically impossible to check them all. Therefore, they are scalded alive. When this happens, the chickens flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads. They often come out of the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they've struggled so much in the tank. Sometimes, when we had a line broken down, they would be left hanging upside down in the stunner in the water to drown. In the stunner, the water is cold and salted to better conduct the electricity. I have personally seen them hang in this position for hours.

"One night in early spring last year we lost hydraulic pressure. Perhaps 300-400 chickens missed the stunner because the line slowed down so much that the birds could avoid it while those who were stunned were able to recover by the time they reached the killing machine - which was only working sporadically. The live birds were left hanging upside down in the scalders while the machinery was being fixed. We could have quit hanging more chickens at this point and let the line run empty while the killing machine was off-line. Instead, we were ordered by Richard Frasier and Ed Taylor to continue to hang the chickens, while Aron Harris was required to kill all of them by hand. This could not be done by one person, even at half the speed and it was clear to everyone there that birds were going by untouched. Several hundred chickens were scalded to death by this decision.

"Most of my fellow employees were extremely abusive to the chickens. Our job was to pick up the chickens off of the belt and hang them upside down in the shackles. This could rarely be accomplished without problems, due to several reasons. We were extremely shorthanded, due to the horrendous working conditions. This led to a high turnover rate with inexperienced, frustrated workers under pressure to keep the production numbers up. If production fell, it would mean overtime work, so that the belt speed was turned up. This resulted in the belt becoming overloaded in the area where the chickens awaited shackling, which ended up smothering hundreds of chickens a night. I heard Richard Frasier say, "I would rather smother a few hundred goddamned birds, than to lose time because of empty shackles." (This was said in late July, 2002 when temperatures in the hanging cage were exceeding 100 degrees in the middle of the night.) . . .

"The heater in the 'cage,' which is the area where birds are hung, worked less than half of the time I worked there. Many times the temperatures would be well below freezing. This resulted in the chickens freezing to the belt last winter and the winter before. They froze to death this way inside the building, where the temperature was below freezing. I and my co-workers complained about this to Richard Frasier, but to no avail. He would just turn and walk away. The reverse of this problem happened in the summertime, where there is no adequate air conditioning. Most of the time, it doesn't work at all, and blows hot air. This results in the chickens dying of heat stroke, heart attack, and suffocation.

"When the plant breaks down or when there are too many chickens on the kill schedule for the shift, they are left over for the next shift. . . . In the summer on day shift, when they leave the birds, they sit from 3:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. under a tin shed roof with no water and no food. I have seen hundreds die of dehydration from this practice. This could be remedied by simply stopping the catchers from catching any more [birds] until the problem in the plant is resolved or by not scheduling as big a kill to begin with. These uncomfortable conditions, coupled with the unrelenting pressure to keep the shackles filled at all costs, lead to much frustration and outright range among the employees.

"I have witnessed Troy Shepmann build dry ice bombs (made by putting dry ice and a small amount of water in a plastic Pepsi bottle and screwing the lid down tight) and putting it on the belt with live chickens during break time. This results in a high pressure explosion that rips the chickens' bodies apart and scatters them all over the room. This occurred numerous times, but the one I remember the most was one night last June when he made a small dry ice bomb by shoving a piece of dry ice up a live chicken's rectum, then plugging it with a wooden cork. It built up enough pressure inside the chicken to blow it apart.

I have also seen Aron Harris rip the heads, legs, and wings off of live chickens, or just stomp them to death on the floor because he was aggravated. This occurred on a regular basis for about the last year and a half that I worked there. I have also seen George Watson, a forklift driver, run over the chickens on purpose, then laugh about it. These kinds of incidents were ongoing and repetitive-just a part of a regular night's work.

"Other problems that came up when I worked there were a result of mismanagement. One, in particular, happened several times when we would get orders for bigger birds. The worst was in the week ending on September 14 of last year. In this instance we were given thousands of chickens to hang that were above the size limit we were used to. The shackles were not designed to fit the oversize legs of the chickens. They were too small for their legs to fit into. In the process of hanging the live birds, we were forced to break their legs to get them to fit into the shackles. This was unnecessary. The shackles could have been spread out to fit the larger-sized birds. It would only have taken about an hour for two maintenance personnel to accomplish this. However, Richard Frasier decided that it wasn't necessary and didn't want to lose the production time to do it. . . .

"We processed deboned thigh and leg meat and boneless, skinless split breasts. Most of the deboned meat is shipped to a further processing plant where it is made into chicken nuggets for KFC. I am writing this letter because I want to see something done about this cruelty. I don't wish to be a part of the nightmare any longer and am willing to speak out about this to anyone at any time.

Thank you,
Virgil Butler"

  • The Polk County sheriff is investigating the matter and will be reporting his findings to the prosecuting attorney. Please contact the sheriff and the prosecuting attorney and politely urge them to file cruelty-to-animals charges against all those responsible, as described in Mr. Butler's testimony, at the Tyson facility in Grannis, Arkansas.

    Sheriff Michael Oglesby
    Polk County Sheriff's Office
    507 Church Street
    Mena, AR 71953
    Phone: 479-394-8163
    Fax: 479-394-1975

    The Honorable Tim Williamson
    Prosecuting Attorney
    Polk County Prosecutor's Office
    PO Drawer 109
    600 Port Arthur Street
    Mena, AR 71953
    Phone: 479-394-6114
    Fax: 479-394-6173

  • Urge the National Chicken Council (NCC, the industry trade group), Tyson Foods, and KFC to provide natural light and fresh air in the chicken houses, space for each bird to walk freely in fresh litter instead of in ammoniated feces, and to stop the forced rapid growth of chickens. Chickens can no longer walk normally due to lameness, pain, and metabolic disorders. In an email to UPC (2/20/03), a resident of Siloam Springs, Arkansas said chickens being raised for Simmons Foods in totally enclosed dark houses, called "tunnel ventilation" houses, "at 5 weeks can hardly stand because their legs are so weak and with no natural light or exercise their joints are too soft to carry the weight."
  • Urge the NCC, Tyson Foods, and KFC to replace the use of paralytic electric shock equipment (misnamed "stunners") in the slaughterhouses with gas-based technology that will kill the birds in the transport crates prior to shackling, thus sparing them the pain and stress of live shackling, neck cutting, and for millions of chickens each year, being scalded alive.
  • Urge the NCC, Tyson Foods, and KFC to develop standards of employee conduct to the birds, to post these standards in the slaughter plants in the appropriate languages, and to make these standards a major part of all employee training programs. Urge that the working environment be improved to eliminate the "frustration and outright rage" that contributes to birds being targeted for abuse.

    National Chicken Council
    1015 15th Street, NW, Suite 930
    Washington DC 20005-2605
    Ph: 202-296-2622
    Fax: 202-293-4005
    Email: Gwatts@ChickenUSA.org
    Rlobb@ChickenUSA.org (Richard Lobb,
    Communications Director)

    John Tyson, CEO/Chairman
    Tyson Foods, Inc.
    PO Box 2020
    Springdale, AR 72765-2020
    Ph: 479-290-4000
    Customer Hotline: 800-643-3410
    Fax: 479-290-3923
    Email: John.Tyson@Tyson.com

    David Novak, Chair and CEO
    KFC - Yum! Brands
    1441 Gardiner Lane
    Louisville, KY 40213
    Ph: 502-874-8300
    Customer Hotline: 800-225-5532
    Fax: 502-874-8567

For information on "broiler" chickens: http://www.UPC-online.org/broiler/
For information on the poultry industry: http://www.UPC-online.org/industry/
For information on poultry slaughter: http://www.UPC-online.org/slaughter/


Photo by Karen Davis

Spring 2003 Poultry Press << Previous - Next >>