A panel of farm animal care specialists created to analyze undercover video investigations at livestock farms has examined video captured at a Wisconsin dairy farm. The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) created the Animal Care Review Panel to engage recognized animal care specialists to examine video and provide expert perspectives for food retailers, the dairy industry and the media.

The panel examined video that was posted online by the group Mercy for Animals. The panel was comprised of Dr. Jim Reynolds, Western University; Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University and Dr. Raymond Anthony, University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Some of the treatment in this video is very abusive, cruel behavior.” said Dr. Grandin. “It is absolutely unacceptable.”

“There’s nothing defendable in the video,” said Reynolds. “The cows are under stress, certainly in fear and probably in pain. The animals are clearly being abused.”

Dr. Anthony notes that the video features instances in which poor and/or inappropriate judgments were exercised as farm employees were seen trying to move seemingly non-compliant or immobile animals.

“The actions resulting from these judgments seem to be repetitive and are not isolated to a single employee,” said Anthony. “The underlying reasons for why these workers failed to show the appropriate sensitivity towards and respect for the animals should be investigated immediately … is it lack of training, poor or inadequate farm management, or blatant cruelty? It is important to find out just how long these workers have been using these techniques and how widespread is their employment.”

Animal Handling
“What takes place in the video appears to be systematic,” said Reynolds. “For example, they’re all using the same type of coiled rope to repeatedly strike the animals. It appears to me that the employees seen in this video are doing what they were taught to do.”

Dr. Anthony notes that the video features:

  • Repeated loud verbal elocutions and derogatory name calling that may be distressing to the animal, and which can foster a negative attitude towards animals.
  • Repeated physical actions, e.g., kicking and whipping with different items, stabbing with a pole that can cause injury and distress to the animals.
  • What appears to be physical injuries to some of the animals (which appear to go untreated) and possibly negative affective states due to fear and confusion.
  • Moving a conscious (and perhaps already distressed or injured) cow with a forklift.  

“Using a forklift this way is unacceptable. In cases of either acute or chronic immobility, farm workers or managers should consult with a veterinarian. The method to move immobile and non-compliant animals that may also be injured or distressed should be chosen with a view towards what is in the best interest of the animal so that it does not induce harm to the animal. In some cases, a veterinarian might recommend appropriate restraints and/or anesthesia or analgesics,” said Anthony. “Further investigation regarding the use of the forklift in this case is strongly encouraged. Corrective action should be taken at once.”

“If an animal won’t get up you need to just walk away and come back later,” said Grandin. “It just might be able to get up if you give it some time. But you certainly don’t use a machine to inappropriately lift it up in the air and you don’t drag animals with a chain.”  

“Using a skid loader to lift a cow off the ground and carry it to where they were trying to move it is not a random employee event,” said Reynolds. “Management had to have supplied them with the skid loader and show them how to use it.”

Reynolds notes the dairy industry’s Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program stresses uniform on-farm animal care practices and has a third-party verification element. The program provides all farms with a manual for referencing appropriate animal handling practices.

“Every dairy in the United States has gone through the FARM program training and has signed off on it,” said Reynolds. “They have the FARM manual. Nothing that is seen in the video is allowed under the FARM program.

“There clearly needs to be more education and training on this farm. There needs to be an acceptance of the need to treat animals with respect and dignity.”

According to Dr. Anthony, the actions by the workers warrant the following questions:

  • How are farm employees screened, trained, introduced to standard farm procedures and assigned specific responsibilities?
  • How are employees trained to recognize sick, injured and distressed animals, and are they trained on what to do in the event of a discovery?
  • How well are the farm and daily milking procedures structured to promote both animal welfare and worker competence?
  • How often are veterinarians scheduled to come to the farm or called to come in to respond to poor animal welfare issues?
  • For what purposes are farm personnel required and/or encouraged to contact the veterinarian?
  • Does the farm have a whistle blower procedure, and what does management do when employees report abuses and neglect or for that matter, distressed animals?
  • What kinds of penalties accrue to workers who do not complete their tasks or are delayed in doing so due to a downed, injured or non-compliant animals?

Facilities and Conditions
“The facilities looked fairly new and appeared to be typical of the industry,” said Reynolds. “The bedding in the free stalls looked nice. The amount of manure in the walking lanes did not appear to be a problem. The lanes might have been a little slippery as the cows seemed to scramble quite a bit when they tried to get up.”

“Workers were kicking and striking cows to get them into the milking stations so there must have been some type of design problem,” said Reynolds. “It’s hard to tell from the video.”

“The facilities appear to be not unlike many conventional dairy operations in the U.S.,” said Anthony. “In some of the segments, the environment appears to be loud. Investigators should consider how much time cows are in the milking parlor, and the presence of structural and environmental impediments that restrict the flow of movement of these cows.”

Employee Attitude and Knowledge
“My experience has been that when problems like these occur it can usually be traced back to a lack of supervision,” said Grandin. “There are clear problems of employee training and employee supervision seen in this video. It takes strong management to make it be known that there are certain things you just don’t do and won’t be tolerated.”

“The employees seen in the video completely lacked basic understanding of animal welfare and animal behavior,” said Reynolds. “They showed no empathy for the cows.”

Dr. Anthony says it appears that the individuals featured in the video:

  • Do not know how to motivate non-compliant cows to move from the animal’s point of view.
  • Do not have the requisite training regarding the animals’ flight zones.
  • Lack sensitivity to individual animals’ needs or knowledge as to why the animals are reluctant to move or are distressed.
  • May not have the requisite awareness of and sensitivity to different aspects of animal welfare.

There are lingering questions about the workers’ training history and background, according to Anthony:

  • Whether some of them may have previously worked with beef cattle, and in situations where use of whips and prods were previously acceptable?
  • Are the practices isolated to the few workers featured in this video and if so, what are the farm’s managers doing about addressing techniques that distress animals?
  • Why are these animals being moved in the first place, and what alternatives have these workers been exposed to for moving non-compliant or immobile distressed or injured animals?
  • What are the consequences to workers if these animals do not move in a timely fashion according to the daily routine?
  • What relationship do the workers have to the farm managers or supervisors, and how often and for how long are managers present on site during a work day?

“I think somebody should be charged with animal abuse and hopefully there will be convictions,” said Reynolds. “There’s nothing defendable in this video.”

“It’s difficult to reach concrete conclusions from videos like these because they go from scene to scene so quickly,” said Grandin. “But many of these issues arise when farms are understaffed and the employees are overworked.”

“It is hard to know if the workers are being blatantly cruel or if they are acting out of frustration and using methods that have not been previously rebuked,” said Anthony. “Clearly, there are more humane ways to handle these cows. It is important that investigators find out if the actions and judgments on this video are a function of lack of training, enculturation, poor enforcement of better methods and overall lack of sensitivity to the welfare needs of animals so that they can be addressed in the most effective and ethically responsible way possible. Investigation by the relevant authorities is urgent to discern the scope of these less-than-humane methods and what can be done to ensure better worker training and sensitivity, and how best to improve the overall management culture on this farm.”

“It is also important to find out what happened to the animals shown in the video,” Anthony said.  

Hidden camera investigations at livestock farms have heightened public attention on animal care issues. In an effort to foster a more balanced conversation and to provide credible feedback to promote continuous improvement in farm animal care, CFI created the Animal Care Review Panel.

The Panel operates independently. Its reviews, assessments, recommendations and reports will not be submitted to the dairy industry for review or approval. CFI’s only role is to facilitate the review process and release the panel’s findings.

About the Experts 

Dr. Jim Reynolds | Western University
Dr. Reynolds is currently a professor of large animal medicine/welfare at Western University, College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, Calif. His current research interests include calf management, and farm animal welfare. His prior experience includes 12 years as the chief of clinical services for production medicine at the University of California-Davis. Dr. Reynolds was also in private dairy and beef practice in California for 14 years. He received the 2007 AVMA Animal Welfare Award and the 2010 American Association of Bovine Veterinarians Award of Excellence. He is a Diplomate of the newly formed American College of Animal Welfare (ACAW).

Dr. Temple Grandin | Colorado State University
Dr. Temple Grandin is one of the most noted experts in animal behavior and animal welfare. She is a bestselling author and consultant to the livestock industry. Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and also designs livestock handling facilities. She has authored over 400 articles in both scientific journals and livestock periodicals on animal handling, welfare, and facility design.

Dr. Raymond Anthony | University of Alaska Anchorage
Dr. Anthony is an academic philosopher/ethicist with wide experience in environmental, food, animal and agricultural ethics. He also specializes in Philosophy of Technology, in particular on issues dealing with social justice, participatory democracy, future generations and responsible citizenship. Dr. Anthony is an associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has presented extensively and published on animal ethics, environmental and sustainability ethics.