273 hours of filming over a seven-month period produced never-before-seen footage of cow-calf separation on an award-winning, ‘high welfare’, organic dairy farm, Bath Soft Cheese.
The farm’s owner, Hugh Padfield, boasts of ‘high welfare’ standards on his four-generation, family-run, 200-cow farm. The farm has been certified by Organic Farmers and Growers (OF&G) – a leading organic scheme approved by DEFRA – and has even been featured on the BBC. Winning the title of ‘Supreme Champions’ at the International Cheese and Dairy Awards, Bath Soft Cheese is known for its high-quality products. The reality for cows and calves on the farm appears to be a far cry from the wholesome image portrayed by Bath Soft Cheese.
Scenes show verbal and physical abuse of animals by staff, three-day old calves being dragged from birthing pens and individually housed, and calves sent to be killed en-masse by a prolific calf dealer.
The organic fallacy is one of smoke and mirrors. Cows on supposedly ‘high welfare’ farms face heartache, misery and suffering, just as they do on intensive farms. Bath Soft Cheese are Milking It with their false claims!
They captured the fate of unwanted calves from the organic farm, and the plight of mothers and babies on the farm itself. Our findings are a reminder not to trust the organic fallacy. Watch Animal Justice Project’s hidden-camera footage.
Hours standing on hard concrete. Bath Soft Cheese cows are milked twice a day in a ‘herringbone’ parlour.
Treated like machines, they can be made to wait over two hours to be milked. That means up to five hours may be spent queuing every single day. For lame cows, such as those we filmed, that may mean hours of agony. During the investigation, cows looked visibly pained from having to stand so long on the filthy (and sometimes waterlogged) concrete.
“The footage from the investigation of Bath Soft Cheese reveals multiple cases of lameness in their cattle, the majority of whom are scored 2 or 3 on the AHDB, correlating to ‘impaired mobility’ and ‘extremely impaired mobility’. The lameness is most likely exacerbated by the long waiting times in the slurry-filled concrete collecting yards and passages prior to milking. Even the so-called ‘high welfare’ farms will have lame cows, it is simply an inherent result of the systems we keep livestock in for the purposes of production.” – Molly Vasanthakumar, Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery MRCVS
Similarly cows who had recently given birth were milked shortly after and did not escape the violence. One worker repeatedly beat a cow in the udder with the pipe – she had given birth just 19 hours before. Others had their tails pulled and twisted. The cows appeared frightened of workers, flinching and backing off as they came near. Experts say cows remember how humans handle them.
As for humans, a cow’s pregnancy lasts for nine months. Due to generations of selective breeding for high milk yields, pregnancy takes a huge toll on the cows’ bodies. Cows who were close to giving birth at Bath Soft Cheese struggled to stand up and walk. Their bodies struggled to cope. Those cows considered ‘spent’ ended up where all farmed cows go – the abattoir.
With 200 cows comes lots of calves. Mother and calf cherish their moments together, forming strong emotional bonds just minutes from birth.
Keeping a calf with the mother for this length of time – longer than the more traditional 1-2 days – is promoted as a ‘high welfare’ measure, yet studies show that the bond between them increases with time, as would be expected, meaning the distress and anguish felt by both mother and calf may be accentuated by this policy. The footage we captured of multiple cow-calf separations supports this conclusion.
It has become evident that organic farming practices can in no way mitigate the heartbreak felt by cows and calves after separation. If anything, the opposite is true.
We followed the story of a little brown calf tagged as ‘202549’, who was born at the farm, and whom we named ‘Button’. His story reveals the torment and distress that cows and calves face when they are separated so that people can consume dairy.
Once he was steady on his feet, he ran around, playful and excited. His mother licked and groomed him, strengthening their relationship. The first time he showed signs of distress was when his mother was taken out of the birthing pen to be milked; he began to cry.
After three days, the family was tragically separated. This is one heart-wrenching side of organic dairy that the industry does not want the public to see.
Dragged by his neck and tail, Button was taken to a nearby shed where he was individually penned – a questionable practice, thought by researchers to impair the cognitive development of calves and stem natural social behaviours. Soon after the separation, his mother began crying out, appearing to look for her baby. She cried intensely throughout the day and night. The agony was drawn out as mother and baby could still hear each other from neighbouring sheds. Investigators filmed her in a restless state in an outside walkway that night, bellowing.
Studies have found that cow-calf separation is even more distressing when “there is a solid wall, but audio contact, between calf and mother at separation”. Just like we filmed at Bath Soft Cheese.
Mother and baby cried out to each other with obvious anguish and desperation that appeared to increase as time went on. Bath Soft Cheese’s own veterinarian stated that cows and calves “get no mental health or separation anxieties”, yet months of Animal Justice Project filming reveals this to be a dubious claim.
Button cried for almost 40 hours post-separation. Confused and helpless, he rammed his body into the pen bars, paced back and forth, and cried until his voice was hoarse. This is the painful reality of dairy, organic or not. Grieving mothers and crying babies were ridiculed by workers, exposing another sadistic side of dairy.
Calves could not be calves. At Bath Soft Cheese’s public open day, young calves were displayed to visitors in well-bedded pens, much larger than the 6×3 ft pens afforded to calves we filmed during the course of our investigation. In fact, the very same calves were filmed back inside the tiny pens just four days after the open day ended. It would seem that the public is presented with a false image of the calves’ housing conditions on these open days; the larger calf pens were disassembled after the open day. Even on standard days where Bath Soft Cheese’s farm is partly open, key areas including where the calves are kept are closed off to the public
“Weaning calves is an inherent and cruel part of the dairy industry, and economically viable farms cannot feasibly avoid it. On this particular farm, calves are kept in individual small pens, with no contact with other animals other than through the bars. It is impossible to see how young, inquisitive animals are expected to display natural behaviours in those conditions.” – Molly Vasanthakumar, Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery MRCVS
Despite a worker stating that newly-separated calves are moved into bigger pens “once they get to a couple of weeks”, our investigators filmed one calf penned for a staggering 28 days. Calves paced, repeatedly stood up and sat down, and suckled at the bars. Their cries were ignored. They were mocked and pushed towards buckets of milk, and even hit by workers. They were robbed of the comfort and reassurance they would naturally get from their mothers.
They are put into group pens and endure the painful practice of ‘disbudding’ – removal of horn buds (often carried out with a hot iron). This procedure is said to cause chronic pain even when anaesthetic is used (as it was at Bath Soft Cheese), as the pain-relieving effects of the drugs are short-lived.
Calves struggled as their heads were rammed through bars to keep them still. One calf had her leg trapped between the bars of a pen during the procedure, and the staff made no attempt to free it, callously letting the animal fall to the ground instead. Veterinarian Dr. Molly Vasanthakumar states, “there is evidence to suggest that calves experience ongoing pain up to three weeks after disbudding, raising serious welfare concerns about this commonly used procedure.”
Calf dealers are profiting from dairy’s ‘waste products’, regularly taking calves en masse to the abattoir so they can be killed for meat.
Calves at Bath Soft Cheese were filmed being loaded onto a trailer and taken to calf dealer Will Pollett. Pollett was previously involved in the live export of calves, and is now an organic beef farmer. However, Animal Justice Project also reveals him to be a wholesale killer of unwanted dairy calves. These tiny, fragile cast-offs of the dairy industry enter the beef supply chain instead, and are slaughtered for human consumption. Pollett was filmed taking a double-decker animal transporter filled with calves to F Drury & Sons Ltd abattoir on a weekly basis.
Bath Soft Cheese delivered calves to Pollett, despite telling the public that their male calves go for ‘rearing’ and that no calves are killed under a year old. Using predominantly sexed-semen, this organic company claims to not produce “that many” male calves, yet the males who are born face a bleak future – the slaughterhouse.
Calves were not given the promised “sun on [their] back” that Bath Soft Cheese claim “every farm animal” receives.
Bath Soft Cheese will have had movement restrictions due to the Tuberculosis (Tb) status of the herd during our filming, but Tb isn’t an automatic death sentence, especially for young calves.
The choice of whether to send animals to slaughter would lie with Bath Soft Cheese. Calves too young to be tested can be kept on farm until restrictions are lifted, or be reared at an Approved Finishing Unit (AFU). Bath Soft Cheese claims all its calves are reared, and none are killed before 12 months old.
At Pollett’s farm, tiny ten-day-old Bath Soft Cheese calves were left on a double-decker transporter overnight without access to food or water. Leaving the farm, Pollett took the transporter to a second site, Whistledown Farm, where he picked up around 100 additional calves before driving to the slaughterhouse.
Calves at Whistledown Farm were left for over 19 hours without access to food and water. Others were slapped and dragged by their heads and tails.
After leaving Whistledown Farm, Pollett headed to F Drury & Sons slaughterhouse in Swindon. By the time they arrived at the abattoir, some of the calves had gone without food or water for over 22 hours. Animals are often starved in the hours before slaughter.
A Bath Soft Cheese veterinarian was asked on their open day whether they send calves to slaughter, and they answered “no”. Yet we filmed numerous calves being sent to abattoirs throughout our investigation.
Calves are tragically killed as ‘waste products’ of the dairy industry, experiencing a short and traumatic life before being slaughtered.
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