Today launches Animal Justice Project’s shocking footage from a five month undercover investigation  between November 2020 and March 2021 of renowned calf dealer, Oaklands Livestock in Shropshire, and the killing of calves in a Chester abattoir. The findings, which were published in the Mail Online this morning  reveal the fate of bull calves born on dairy farms amidst a period of industry change and have led to the dealer ‘ceasing trading’ .
Despite increased integration of the dairy and beef industries, the well-acknowledged problem of what to do with bull calves born on dairy farms remains, with many crossbred dairy calves being unsuitable for rearing. These youngsters are labelled “mongrels” and “grass rats” by some farmers [eg 3-5]. According to latest figures, over half of calves killed in abattoirs come from dealers like Oaklands , and originated on dairy farms.
Many major supermarkets have banned the shooting of day-old calves surplus to the dairy industry [eg 7, 8], Arla - the UK’s largest milk processor  - prohibited from December 2020 the shooting of calves under eight weeks of age , and the second largest milk processor , Müller, prohibited the shooting of calves in the same month . Red Tractor has followed suit  which means 95% of milk produced in the UK  will have come from dairies banning the “routine euthanasia” of calves on farm by 2023.
Whilst the shooting of male calves at a day or two old has been known as the dairy industry’s “dirty secret” , the slaughter calves, Animal Justice Project claims, are the industry’s new dirty secret. According to the Rural Payments Agency, a staggering 65,000 calves under a month old were killed in UK slaughterhouses last year  - more than the most recent figure of 60,000 day-old calves shot on farm . Supermarket and industry bans may end the shooting to appease dairy consumers but the policies often do not cover the ‘onward trade’ of calves, which may mean many end up at markets and, ultimately, the slaughterhouse. The banning of calf shooting may actually increase the number of calves ending up in the abattoir due to farmers having no choice but to send them off farm.
Last available figures from the Food Standard Agency (FSA)  report that over half of slaughter calves are sent to abattoirs via dealers who pick the animals up from dairy farms and marts nationwide. Animal Justice Project filmed over several months at Oaklands, a calf dealer known within the industry as one of the “killing teams”, operating on the same site as one of two Blade Farming collection centres [16, 17] and has been responsible their transport of calves. Blade Farming is an infamous integrated beef supply chain calf rearing company linking Arla and Sainsburys, in collaboration with beef processing company, ABP .
From Oaklands, calves are either reared or taken to slaughter at G & Gb Hewitt abattoir in Chester. Animal Justice Project filmed Oaklands’ director, Derek Whittall, leaving tiny calves as young as nine days old in the lairage overnight.
VIDEO (no logo/text version available): vimeo.com/533067684
- Oaklands director, Derek Whittall, buying calves at marts and Josh Whittall (son), picking calves up from dairy farms supplying Sainsburys, via milk processor Müller. Also 2020 British Farming Awards ‘Dairy Innovator of the Year’ Silver winner, Stublach Farm, Cheshire 
- Sainsbury’s stating that farmers mustn’t “knowingly” sell calves to buyers for slaughter’ . And yet calves are being picked up by a dealer who kills calves. Müller doesn’t prohibit “the sale of bull calves by dairy farmers” who supply them 
- Blade Farming, an integrated calf rearing company collaborating with Sainsburys and Arla , run one of their two ‘calf collection centres’ on the same dealer’s yard. With Oaklands’ trucks and Josh Whittall also being responsible for Blades’ calf collection service
- A culture of abuse amongst workers at the dealer’s yard towards calves which should be of concern to Sainsburys, Müller and Blade Farming
- Calves starved of food for over 21 hours and no water provided for unweaned calves at any time during filming. This is a breach of The Welfare of Farmed Animals (2007) which states that calves must be provided with drinking water daily and be fed at least twice a day 
- Tesco supplying, mega-dairy via Müller, Grosvenor Farms  on paperwork at Chester slaughterhouse. Tesco state their bull calf policy doesn’t cover “onward trade” from dairies 
- Calves filmed being killed up to almost a minute after stunning, yet FSA and Humane Slaughter Association recommend no more than 15 seconds 
- Oaklands sending calves to the slaughterhouse as young as nine days old (shown by their passports) and they weren’t killed immediately which is a potential breach of WATOK slaughter regulations 
The new Animal Justice Project footage reveals unweaned calves not provided water at all during filming, and no food for long periods - sometimes over 21 hours. Molly Vasanthakumar, veterinarian states that “calves naturally feed frequently throughout the day from their mothers. There is footage here showing calves offered a single milk feed, without any water or fibrous food, over 21 hours. Leaving young animals with insufficient feed and water not only breaches legislation, but impacts the welfare of these calves.” Calves circled in pens crying out. Some appeared not to know how to use feeders and were subjected to rough handling by a worker who shouted and swore at the animals. One was hurled across a pen and kicked in the head.
Calves just days old were thrown down trailer and truck ramps, lifted by their tails, kicked, kneed, punched, hit with sticks, dragged by their ears, jacket whipped, slapped, pushed, slapped, and had gates rammed on their delicate legs. Vasanthakumar states “these incidents are highly distressing to watch”. Paperwork reveals that Josh Whittall, Derek’s son, who was filmed brutally throwing calves up and down trailer and truck ramps, has also transported calves for Blade Farming.
This abuse should be of great concern for dairies working with Oaklands, for example those supplying Müller - which purchases a fifth of milk on farms , and Sainsburys, which uses Müller to process around 50% of its milk [28, 29].
Oaklands Livestock owner, Derek Whittall, who has a previous conviction for sending ineligible calves to slaughter under the government’s Calf Processing Aid Scheme , was filmed using a local abattoir, G & Gb Hewitt abattoir in Chester to kill calves. Whittall was filmed dropping off tiny, unweaned calves out of hours as young as nine days old - they were left overnight in the lairage, unchecked by an animal Welfare Officer (AWO) which is a potential breach in slaughter regulations . Vasanthakumar states “a group of young calves waiting so many hours to be killed, without food, or an initial inspection 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; being housed overnight in a draughty slaughterhouse lairage in winter will predispose them to cold stress - a clear health and welfare concern.” Calves filmed being killed on other days were killed up to almost a minute after stunning yet the Food Standards Agency and Humane Slaughter Association recommend no more than 15 seconds to ensure animals do not begin to recover consciousness before they die of blood loss .
Grosvenor Farms  - a mega dairy supplying Tesco via Müller - was documented also having calves killed at the same slaughterhouse. As well as livestock agent, Livestock Supplies Ltd , claiming on their website to be supplying calves for rearing ‘in the direct supply chain’ to a major supermarket .
Oaklands purchases calves from markets such as Barbers in Market Drayton, Harrison & Hetherington in Carlisle, and Halls in Shrewsbury (where they also sell calves ).
As part of the investigation, Animal Justice Project approached nine major supermarkets, Red Tractor, Arla, Müller, Saputo (formally Dairy Crest) and Meadow Foods to find out whether slaughter calves are included in their policies only to discover that some don’t include ‘onward trade’ of male calves. Seven of the supermarkets - Sainsburys, Waitrose, ASDA, Morrisons, Marks & Spencers, Tesco and Co-Op - responded. Four of the supermarkets - Co-Op, Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda appear to allow the onward trade of bull calves from dairies, as well as Red Tractor and all three milk producers contacted - Arla, Müller, Saputo (which also still continues to allow bull calf shooting) and Meadow Foods. Marks & Spencers throws their policies into question by stating that the “final destination of calves at auction marts would be unknown” .
Co-Op claims it is the “farmers prerogative to choose how they should sell their calves” and they “recognise that some may decide to use the auction” . Tesco states its standards “don’t cover onward trade”  and Sainsburys states farmers mustn’t “knowingly” sell calves to buyers for slaughter .
Red Tractor did not respond however their new standards available online state they will prohibit only the ‘euthanasia’ (ie shooting) of day-old calves on-farm , the same with Müller which appears to offer no safety-net for bull calves, stating: “We aren’t prohibiting the sale of bull calves by dairy farmers who supply us” . Saputo (previously Dairy Crest) stated that “farmers will sell their surplus calves into the beef market place”  and Meadow Foods didn’t reply but their ‘Farm Sustainability Standards’ specifies only that farmers are prohibited from routine euthanasia of calves on farm .
Arla, the UK’s largest milk processor  with around 2,500 dairy farmers  and used by Asda  and Morrisons for 100% of their milk , also did not respond. Their ‘360 Standards’ however means the fate of calves over eight weeks old hangs in the balance. Asda admits that after 8 weeks, “dairy bulls can either be marketed” .
Claire Palmer, founder of Animal Justice Project: “A staggering 65,000 bull calves under just a month old were slaughtered last year. Whilst many retailers have policies in place prohibiting the shooting of calves, the ‘slaughter calves’ are clearly falling through gaps. Whilst we are pleased the dealer we exposed has ceased trading - considering they were caught on camera brutally abusing calves and leaving them for many hours with no food or water - many tiny, defenseless calves will continue to needlessly killed because they are deemed rejects of the dairy industry, or unsuitable for beef. Ultimately, the solution to the bull calf problem in this country lies with the consumer and we urge them to ditch dairy today and choose instead compassionate plant-based alternatives now widely available on every high street”.
Edie Bowles, Advocates for Animals Solicitor: “The footage gathered by Animal Justice Project has called into question the compliance of several welfare laws that farmers are required to follow. It is essential that these breaches are thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken. The public needs to have confidence that the laws passed to protect farmed animals do not exist on paper only”.
Animal Justice Project is a UK-based organisation campaigning peacefully to end the use and exploitation of animals on farms and in laboratories. It carries out ground-breaking undercover investigations and provides public educational resources about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. Their main website is animaljusticeproject.com
Claire Palmer, MSc Zoology
Animal Justice Project
T: +44 (0) 7851 497 827
 Morrisons (2019) www.fwi.co.uk/business/markets-and-trends/dairy-markets/no-bull-calf-left-behind-for-morrisons-dairy-farmers
 Sainsburys (2017) www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/~/media/Files/S/Sainsburys/pdf-downloads/animal-health-and-welfare.pdf
 Rural Payments Agency (RPA) Freedom of Information request. 14 January 2021 (available upon request)
 Sainsburys, per comms: “Suppliers are expected to not knowingly sell calves to buyers for slaughter” (available upon request)
 Müller, per comms: “We aren’t prohibiting the sale of bull calves by dairy farmers who supply us.” (available upon request)
 Tesco, per comms: “Our standards don’t cover onward trade.” (available upon request)
 Marks & Spencers, per comms: “The final destination of calves at auction marts would be unknown.” (available upon request)
 Co-Op, per comms: “It is the farmers prerogative to choose how they should sell their calves, and we recognise that some may decide to use the auction market system.”
 Saputo (previously Dairy Crest), per comms: “The vast majority of our farmers also have a preference to raise bull calves …
The remainder of our farmers will sell their surplus calves into the beef market place.” (available upon request)
 ASDA, per comms: “Dairy bulls can either be marketed or retained” (available upon request)