Waikato dairy farmers disgusted at abusive behaviour

A hidden camera investigation has uncovered animal abuse within the dairy industry.

A hidden camera investigation has uncovered animal abuse within the dairy industry.

Waikato dairy farmers have reacted with disgust and anger at footage showing people carrying out cruel and violent abuse to newborn male calves.

In the investigation by Farmwatch and welfare organisation SAFE, investigators used hidden cameras to expose the dark side of the dairy industry.

The footage was disgusting and indefensible, former Waikato Federated Farmers dairy section chairman Craig Littin said at a Waikato Federated Farmers dairy section meeting in Hamilton.

Littin said it should be dealt with appropriately by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

"It's a small minority and there's no place in the industry for anyone that treats animals like that or any associated industries."

What was shown on television was not the norm in  the dairy industry, dairy section chairwoman Jacqui Hahn said.

"We definitely don't condone what it was showing."

The operation was filmed in the winters of 2014 and 2015, with the bulk of the footage of the calves in the pen taken last winter, according to the MPI.

News of this sparked anger at SAFE among farmers for not sending the footage immediately to MPI.

"If you are seeing calves on the roadside that are dying, that should be reported immediately," former provincial president James Houghton said.

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Hahn called this "hugely irresponsible", of SAFE.

North Hamilton dairy farmer Gaynor Tierney said the footage shown of the treatment at a Waikato company that processes calves for petfood was "unacceptable".

The timing of the show frustrated her because it meant farmers following best practise around bobby calf treatment had no means of showing the public what they did.

"No farmer can say 'come onto our farm and we'll show you what we do', because everyone's finished calving."


Fonterra manager of supplier relations Sarah Wood said the co-operative was taking the issue  "very, very seriously, because it will have a massive impact on our key customer brands".

Wood said Fonterra had also changed its supply agreement and as of this season, farmers supplying the co-operative were no longer allowed to keep bobby calves in pens on the roadside for pickup.

Fonterra condemned the footage and, in a statement, said immediate steps to deal with abuse were being taken, including meeting with SAFE and corresponding with representatives from the meat industry to discuss the abuse.

"While bobby calves will always be part of the dairy industry, they must be treated with care and respect. Behaviour in this footage in no way represents the vast majority of New Zealand farmers who care about their animals.

"As a co-operative we take a hard line on animal welfare. We're investigating this and will be taking strong action if any of our people were involved."

Fonterra said the co-operative was committed to responsible dairying.

"We want to let our customers and consumers know that we are taking action to ensure these practices do not happen on Fonterra farms and will be front-footing this issue with other primary industries."

Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis described the treatment of the calves as terrible behaviour.

"The rules are very clear for farmers and have been made very clear to farmers by Federated Farmers, DairyNZ or the dairy companies what our responsibilities are."

These rules needed to be better enforced along with more education to farmers around best practise, he said.

"That's the way to take it forward."

Those caught mis-treating their animals would be ostracised by the farming community, he said.

"That's the biggest punishment you can get." 

It will affect the industry's reputation and the industry had to ensure it did not happen again.

Lewis, an Open Country Dairy supplier said he was not allowed to house bobby calves on the roadside for collection as part of his supply agreement.

"The rules state very clearly that we are not to have the calves at the roadside."

He was surprised that farmers were still putting calves out on the roadside for collection. Most farmers he knew housed their calves in their rearing shed next to the heifer calf replacements.

When there were calves to be collected, the farmer would signal the meat company via a flag in the letterbox.

The rules around bobby calf collection were very tight from the calf shed all of the way to slaughter.

He supplied Affco, who had MPI inspectors and veterinarians on hand to ensure the stock were well treated.

Lewis said he was randomly audited by MPI during spring, which saw an inspector come onto the farm and inspect his calf housing facilities.


SAFE executive director Hans Kriek said the footage was horrifying.

"Bobby calves are basically regarded as trash.

"They are literally left like rubbish, to be picked up at the side of the road. They are just waste products to the industry and are treated accordingly. These animals pay a heavy price for our insatiable appetite for dairy – and massive industry profit."

Farmwatch said its investigation uncovered multiple abuses, including calves born mid-winter with no shelter, calves killed by farm workers thrown into piles, animals left in crates on the sides of roads, often in extreme weather, and a slaughterhouse worker violently kicking and hitting calves before bludgeoning them and slitting their throats.

The footage on Sunday night was unacceptable, said Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) director general of regulation and assurance Scott Gallacher.

"Anybody seeing this type of abuse would be appalled. We share that view," Gallacher said.

The footage was given to MPI by Farmwatch on September 14, and the ministry was investigating after animal welfare officers watched it.

The ministry had to build a case before it could take any action.

The maximum penalty for wilful ill-treatment was five years in prison and $100,000 for individuals, and a maximum of $500,000 for a company.

A former dairy farmer was sentenced to four-and-a-half-years' prison earlier this year for wilful ill-treatment of animals.

 Footage of cruel and violent abuse of newborn male calves in the dairy industry is being investigated by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

* Comments on this article are now closed

 - Stuff


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