From the dairy farm to a livestock centre to a slaughterhouse: we caught on camera (for the first time in the UK) the horrific killing of tiny, defenceless calves inside a Chester-based abattoir. Given that supermarkets, milk processors and assurance schemes have been patting themselves on the backs for prohibiting the shooting of calves on farms, our investigation was vital in showing that dairy still kills. The plight of the tragic, so-called ‘slaughter calves’ has been revealed.
Red Tractor, Arla and Müller, plus many supermarkets including Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons, all have varying policies on calf killing. But there are loopholes, and calves will not always be protected. Some of these policies only protect calves up to eight weeks old, and others do not prevent calves being sold on at markets. Therefore, the fate of many of these calves is to enter the integrated calf rearing and fattening system, where they will be killed for their flesh at just a year or two old.
Whittall’s facility, Oaklands Livestock Centre, was in Shropshire. It was a busy hub for calves passing through. Centres like these are an integral part of the UK calf trade, and aid the exploitation of calves.
Since launching our investigation in the Mail Online, and widespread media coverage, Oaklands Livestock closed down. A huge campaign success!
Our brave investigators followed dairy calves from farms to a dealer’s yard and then onto their fate inside a slaughterhouse.
Our findings were horrific and sad. Babies were subjected to abuse at the dealers during their final days, days which should have been spent with their mothers.
Watch Animal Justice Project’s hidden-camera footage.
The footage reveals a sad reality for many tiny bull calves: no good for dairy, and considered unsuitable or unprofitable (not having enough flesh) for beef. Farmers on forums call them ‘grass rats’. ‘Slaughter calves’ are marketed for very little money, since their lives are considered barely worth living. Dealers are responsible for over half of all calves entering slaughterhouses. Once there, the calves may be beaten, kicked, thrown and starved before being sent to their fate.
Many others were housed for some time before being transported to a nearby abattoir — G. & G.B. Hewitt — where we captured tiny calves being brutally killed for kebab and cheap meat exports. Animal Justice Project captured on camera calves being picked up from dairy farms, supplying Sainsbury’s via milk processor, Müller, by Oaklands Livestock Centre, owned by renowned calf dealer Derek Whittall. Whittall buys and sells calves at Halls Shrewsbury Auction, as well as buying calves at Barbers Market in Market Drayton.
They were kicked and pushed down trailer ramps. Others were dragged up by their tails and ears. We caught on camera the physical and verbal abuse of these vulnerable babies. Gates were slammed on the calves, trapping their delicate legs. Plastic bags were waved around to scare the already distressed babies.
The violent culture of abuse amongst workers towards calves at Oaklands was normalised, condoned and seemed to be expected.
“These incidents are highly distressing to watch, and not only do they breach transport and welfare legislation, they demonstrate a total lack of compassion and cause unnecessary pain, fear and suffering to the individual animals.” – Molly Vasanthakumar Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery MRCVS
Under legislation, those who are less than four weeks old must be fed two or more times in 24 hours. We filmed multiple groups of calves going without feeds for as long as 21 hours and others were fed only once in 29 hours. This was a regular occurrence during our filming.
Unweaned calves also had no access to water. Young calves paced and cried out. Being separated from their mothers and having milk restricted is highly distressing and dangerous for calves. When they were finally fed, they were often shown no patience. Some were thrown and hit and one was kicked in the face for not taking to the drinkers fast enough.
This is the heartbreaking, lesser-known part of the calf trade. Oaklands workers took calves to G. & G.B. Hewitt slaughterhouse in Chester, which they used to kill calves. Other agents including Livestock Supplies Ltd were caught on camera also taking calves there, taking almost 30 calves in February alone. Calves are sent to the same slaughterhouses that kill larger animals such as sheep and adult cows. Their small frames are reflected in how tiny they look inside the walkways and holding pens.
Oaklands owner, Derek Whittle was caught on our cameras leaving tiny, unweaned calves as young as nine days old in the slaughterhouse lairage overnight during winter. Unchecked upon arrival by an Animal Welfare Officer. This is a breach of Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015 (WATOK)
“This is not only a breach of regulations, but means that these animals continue to suffer after an inevitably stressful journey to the slaughterhouse. The youngest calf of this group is 9 days old; being housed overnight in a draughty slaughterhouse lairage in winter, without access to feed…will predispose them to cold stress, a clear health and welfare concern.” – Molly Vasanthakumar Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery MRCVS
Calves were mercilessly stunned with a bolt gun before being strung up by their back legs and having their throats slit open to be ‘bled out’. The workers, desensitised to this horrific violence, took no hesitation in taking the lives of the calves. Curious and vulnerable babies were reduced to a mere profit-making product, hanging upside down and bleeding onto the slaughterhouse floor.
Their captive bolt gun failed to stun a calf four times. Workers blasted music and shouted loudly whilst they were next to young calves in the stun room. Frail, tiny babies, faced some of the worst parts of the industry.
There is no legislation covering the time between stunning and bleeding out but the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA) states that “if it is possible to stick [cut the throat] within 15 seconds, then this should be the case”. We caught calves being left for over 40 seconds after stunning.
“The investigation into the welfare of these calves exposes the reality of the dairy industry. Calves are weaned from their mothers shortly after birth, they have little financial value unless they are females destined for the milking parlour, and are often considered a ‘waste’ product of the industry. As a result they are exposed to conditions which cause them stress, pain and inevitable suffering. The cases seen in this investigation are not isolated to just one slaughterhouse or just one intensive farm, but are the reality of the cruelty that underlies the whole livestock industry.“ – Molly Vasanthakumar, Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery MRCVS
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