Texas video shows improper calf treatment

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Video from a northwestern Texas cattle facility shows workers killing calves with multiple blows to the head from a claw hammer and the blunt side of a pickaxe.

The workers are also shown dragging calves by their ears and repeatedly stepping on one downed calf.

The footage is part of a three-minute video released to the public in April. It was captured by an employee who was also an investigator for Mercy for Animals, a nonprofit organization that advocates for animals' "right to live free from unnecessary suffering and exploitation." The AVMA issued a statement that calls the practices shown in the video "barbaric, inhumane, and unacceptable" and urged law enforcement to investigate and prosecute those responsible.

In a subsequent statement and accompanying video, AVMA CEO Ron DeHaven expressed how a press release condemning abuses felt inadequate.

"We're seeing this happen much too often, and it's time we take a stronger stance against such abuse," Dr. DeHaven explained. "Too often, those in the industry seem more concerned about attacking those responsible for producing the videos than addressing the abuse depicted in them, and that attitude has got to change."

Any AVMA member complicit in this type of abuse, he said, will be investigated by the Association's Judicial Council, which recommends disciplinary actions to the AVMA Executive Board, including membership termination.

Dr. DeHaven questioned producer objections over allowing filming of their operations, noting animal scientist Temple Grandin and others have suggested that installing cameras at livestock facilities would prove animals are being handled humanely. This latest video also demonstrates the need for increased veterinary oversight at ranches, farms, livestock markets, and slaughter facilities.

In addition to condemning acts of abuse, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners released a statement stating that animals deserve timely and effective treatment for diseases and conditions. Mercy for Animals alleged that injured and ill calves on the farm were denied medical care.

"The images presented in this video are extremely disturbing and represent a total breakdown in the animal care systems present at this calf ranch," the AABP press release states. "The perpetrators of willful animal abuse should be prosecuted and procedures put in place to prevent future instances of abuse, if this farm is to be allowed to continue to raise animals."

The facility is identified as E6 Cattle Company in Hart, Texas, and the video states that the facility raises about 10,000 calves for dairy farms. Officials with the company could not be reached for comment.

Chief Deputy Thomas Taylor of the Castro County Sheriff's Office said during the last week of April that his office had been investigating the feedyard and its employees, and he hoped that the information gathered by his office would be referred that week to the county district attorney's office, which would consider whether to file criminal charges. Mercy for Animals filed its information with the district attorney's office March 29, and the sheriff's office began its investigation in early April.

A statement from Mercy for Animals indicates the organization conducted the investigation in March and gave law enforcement officers a legal complaint and evidence. Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, said his organization randomly selected the facility for an investigation, but the investigator who worked at the facility saw neglected and suffering calves during a walk-through prior to his two weeks of employment.

Runkle does not think the investigator saw a veterinarian at the facility during his employment. Runkle hopes the company and employees shown in the video will be held responsible for their actions and that the video will lead state and federal authorities to more strictly regulate euthanasia methods. He favors having the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia adopted as law.

Dr. M. Gatz Riddell, executive vice president of the AABP, expects that members of the public were as shocked and appalled as veterinarians were at the practices shown in the video.

"We have to make sure that the consuming public is confident that the animals which are raised for food are humanely treated," Dr. Riddell said. "And that just requires ever-increasing levels of training and protocol implementation, and increased and continually improving sensitivity on the part of the people that interact with the animals."

The AVMA response and video are posted online here.