*Warning: this article contains images and descriptions that some might find distressing*
A new investigation at a Red Tractor-approved UK dairy farm has uncovered a series of “horrific” abuses.
Animal rights charity Viva! visited Tafarn Y Bugail, a farm housing 500 “dairy cows” in west Wales, on several occasions between February and June of this year. Investigators uncovered “extreme” rough handling, dead animals left outside, calves being taken from their mothers less than 12 hours after birth and left in cold pens, and more.
At the time of filming, the farm supplied First Milk, which provides dairy products for a number of well-known brands across Britain. First Milk severed ties with Tafarn Y Bugail on October 31, however, and the farm is now being investigated by local authorities.
Investigators filmed a total of 240 hours of footage at Tafarn Y Bugail. According to Viva!, the film shows that cows were repeatedly hit by workers during milking. In one attack that the organization described as “particularly harrowing,” a cow was hit more than 55 times in seven minutes.
Footage shows cows being pushed, shoved, and kicked in their udders. Two cows also had their tails twisted. One calf was pulled out of their mother with a rope while being born.
Many of the cows were also suffering from lameness. Lameness refers to an inability to use limbs. It’s thought that around 30 percent of the UK’s dairy cows suffer from the condition, which they develop due to injury, ineffective hoof trimming, infectious disease, or – most commonly – being forced to stand on hard surfaces for extended periods of time while being milked. According Viva!, Tafarn Y Bugail had more cows suffering from lameness than a typical farm.
At least 17 of the cows were wearing “hobbles,” which are like handcuffs or shackles. They are routinely used to tie dairy cows’ legs together to prevent them from doing the splits. One cow was so lame that she walked on three legs.
Dead cows left outside
Investigators found that dead cows were dumped outside where birds and other wildlife could feed on them. According to Viva!, this is a “blatant violation” of government guidance.
The UK’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that animals who die on farms should be “collected, identified and transported from [the] farm without ‘undue delay’” and that farm workers must “ensure that animals and birds cannot access the carcass.” This is a public health issue, as wild animals who eat corpses could spread zoonotic diseases.
Investigators witnessed a dead calf being eaten by wild animals inside a calving shed. They said that the scene “looked like something out of a horror film,” and that the dead calf had been eaten down to the bone. The carcass was left in a barn with pregnant cows and another newly born calf for 48 hours.
Babies taken from mothers
It is common practice for calves to be taken from their mothers just a few hours after birth in the UK, and Tafarn Y Bugail was no different. They were separated within 12 hours after being born, and many calves were put in pens and subjected to extreme temperatures. One calf, who was still wet from birth, was visibly shaking in the winter cold. She was also barely able to stand.
While findings at the farm may be shocking to some, they are not unusual. There are around 1.85 million cows used in the dairy industry each year. Dairy farming is rife with abuse, and multiple investigations have uncovered similar cruelty in the increasingly intensive UK dairy industry.
“Sadly, this farm is no different to thousands of other dairy farms in which cows are treated as disposable commodities, exploited for their milk and discarded like trash,” Lex Rigby, head of investigations at Viva!, told Plant Based News (PBN). “It’s not just one bad apple; this type of mistreatment takes place every day on farms all over the UK and abroad. Don’t support animal abuse, ditch dairy and go vegan.”
The problem with Red Tractor
Red Tractor is a so-called “assurance label” used in the UK. It claims to show that a product comes from a farm with a set of “rigorous standards” and that animals have been “well cared for.”
According to Viva!, Red Tractor stated that there is “nothing to suggest a systematic issue” at Tafarn Y Bugail. “Once again Red Tractor can’t see the forest for the trees,” Rigby told PBN. “Maybe we missed the part of their ‘rigorous animal welfare standards’ that deem violent assaults perfectly acceptable livestock husbandry practice. This is not high welfare, it’s corporate cruelty on a mass scale.”
Tafarn Y Bugail is just the latest in a long time of Red Tractor farms where animal cruelty has been documented.
In March of this year, Animal Justice Project unveiled footage from a Red Tractor-certified pig “mega farm” that investigators described as among “the worst” conditions they’d seen. In January, people protested across Costa branches all over the country after a Viva! exposé of a Red Tractor dairy farm supplying it.