Undercover footage from a dairy farm southwest of Amarillo shows workers crushing sick and injured calves' skulls with pickaxes and hammers, and tossing dying calves on a pile of dead ones in the back of a truck -- acts that one animal welfare group says violates state cruelty laws.
Gathered by an investigator for the non-profit Mercy for Animals, the disturbing footage showed what MFA Executive Director Nathan Runkle called E6 Cattle Co.'s "culture of cruelty and neglect." Chosen by Mercy for Animals at random, E6 raises calves for use on dairy farms; managing about 10,000 animals at a time.
Although E6 owner Kirt Espenson told Hair Balls that the four employees violated the company's policy and were subsequently fired, Runkle said his investigator reported the actions to Espenson many times, only to be brushed off. Ultimately, Runkle said, Espenson bought a single low-caliber gun to be used on the calves; he also told workers to deny medical care for crossbred calves, Runkle alleged.
In addition to the crude use of pickaxes and hammers, the footage shows one worker stepping on the neck of a prostrate calf and workers using a dehorning iron to cauterize the horns of bull calves without any anesthesia. (In one scene, workers use an instrument called a disbudding scoop to rip out the horns).
Runkle said he presented the footage, and a detailed complaint, to the Castro County District Attorney's Office.
"The evidence demonstrates an ongoing pattern of torture, unjustifiable infliction of pain and suffering, and failure to provide necessary medical care," Runkle said. "We are urging the Castro County District Attorney's Office to promptly arrest and charge the owner of this facility, as well as all involved workers, for the unacceptable and malicious cruelty carried out...at this factory farm."
Espenson told Hair Balls that his company "takes full responsibility for what happened to those animals....I am deeply saddened by what happened on my farm. The actions in this video are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the policies that we have here. We have strict written protocol for animal care and euthanising the animals....We have veterinarians here that are helping to update all our protocols to meet the American Association of Bovine Veterinarians, and blunt force trauma is not an acceptable way to euthanize a calf."
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He added that employees are now rigorously trained and that they sign a code of conduct.
Runkle also provided testimony from leading veterinarians, including Temple Grandin, an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an animal welfare adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"The living conditions for the calves were filthy. It is obvious that both the management and the employees have no regard for animal welfare," Grandin stated.
We'll be following this and will keep you informed.