Newsroom Exclusive

Hidden cameras reveal milking shed beatings

*Watch the full story in the video below*

A Northland sharemilker caught on hidden cameras hitting dairy cows with a steel pipe in his milking shed had previously been the subject of a complaint to the Ministry for Primary Industries about other claims of animal abuse.

That inquiry was dropped due to a lack of evidence but the new video from the milking shed cameras has been given to the Ministry by farm animal advocacy group Farmwatch as part of a new complaint.

A month’s footage from the hidden cameras supplied to Newsroom by Farmwatch shows the sharemilker repeatedly hitting cows during milking. At times the cows were hit on the head, at other times their legs were struck with a steel pipe. 

After viewing the footage, Newsroom journalist Melanie Reid visited the farm and talked to the sharemilker on camera. He was not aware footage existed of him beating cows. Much of the earlier video footage shows him moving cows in a way common on dairy farms by hitting them on the rump with an alkathene pipe. 

“He started bashing their legs with a steel pipe. Their legs were absolutely swollen, ridiculously swollen.” 

When asked if he hit the cows he said he did, but only to train them and the best approach was to be “kind and firm”.  

“You’ve got to train your cows. You can’t let your cows rule you.” 

When Reid confronted him about hitting cows with a steel pipe he said he denied the allegation: “Why would I whack cows with a steel pole?” 

“You tell me,” said Reid.  

He said he didn’t like where the conversation was going and told Reid: “You better f**k off.” 

Footage of the conversation and the sharemilker beating animals can be seen in the video accompanying this story. 

Newsroom spoke to two former staff from the farm who said they had witnessed the man abusing cows. Both of the staff have years of experience in the dairy industry and said they were appalled at the treatment. 

One former farmhand, who wishes to remain anonymous, said it was the worst milking shed he had been in during his 20-year career.

Cows' swollen legs after being beaten with a steel pipe. Photo: Supplied

The abuse he witnessed was not a one-off incident, it was regular and seemed to worsen over time. His concern at the treatment of the cows led him to blow the whistle.

“He started bashing their legs with a steel pipe. Their legs were absolutely swollen, ridiculously swollen.” 

The behaviour the farmhand saw during his two-and-a-half years working on the farm included incidents involving farm bikes and dogs being used to move animals with milk fever or during calving issues.

One cow at the farm ended up in hip clamps which raised her back legs to standing. In an attempt to get her to stand on her front legs, dogs were used. The former farmhand says they ended up biting the cow on the face.

Asked about this, the sharemilker told Reid he used his dogs to “motivate” the cow to stand.  

“I was stunned and sickened by what I saw. The level of anger towards the cows was quite disturbing to see.”  

“My dogs are trained to bark, to yap around the cows until she stands up."

The farmhand said the use of dogs on sick cows was frequent, as were dog bites to cows' tails, legs and udders.

Once in the milking shed, the yelling and hitting would begin. 

Initially he used an alkathene pipe, a common method used by farmers to move cattle. The lightweight pipe produces a loud noise without causing much pain to animals. Most farmers will hit a cow’s rump to direct them to move. But the sharemilker hit cows’ legs. 

“I guess he wasn’t happy with that, he probably thought it wasn’t working properly", the former worker said. "He ended up with the steel pipe. 

“Cows would be limping out of the cowshed.” 

Some cows regarded as problem animals ended up with swollen back legs.  

“They were always at the back of the herd, always, because they were sore,” said the farmhand. 

“We went through the right channels. We went to the owner first, nothing was done. We went to MPI, nothing was done."

At times cows were also hit about the head with sticks, a practice the farmhand said there was no excuse for. 

As well as being hit if they kicked cups off during milking, the cows were abused for defecating in the milking shed, the worker recalling to Newsroom that faeces had been picked up and walked around in front of the animals to be thrown in their face.

In another incident, shared on Facebook, the sharemilker spray-painted “I am an arsehole” on one of the cows.  

He said this was just a joke, and the cow had “been annoying me for two years”.  

The sharemilker's paint job on one of the farm's cows. 

The farmhand and another former worker raised concerns about the abuse with the owner of the farm.

When nothing was done by the owner they raised the issue with MPI by phone. The former worker said MPI didn’t seem to understand the issues. 

“She was going on about - 'On a scale of one to 10 were the cows skinny, or in good condition?' 

“I said ‘Look, you’re not really listening, they’re well-fed, the abuse is physical abuse’." He explained the hip clamp incident and the hitting and dragging of cows. 

MPI visited the property in March and spoke to the sharemilker about five days after the complaint was made. He told Reid he took the MPI investigator into the paddock and showed him the cow which had the hip clamps used on it. He said the cow had no bite marks on it. 

The farm worker said MPI called and left a voice message to say the Ministry had visited the sharemilker and investigated the allegations. 

“The outcome was pretty much: 'He was good guy, cows look brilliant, they couldn’t see any abuse',” said the farm worker. 

Melanie Reid at the Northland farm to confront the sharemilker. 

The visit from MPI did nothing to change the behaviour. A month later, a length of steel pipe from the farm workshop was used on the cows’ legs. This was the last straw for the farmhand.  

“That was enough for me, I couldn’t take it. I just wanted to hit him.”  

The farmhand said he was worried confronting the sharemilker would end in violence, and he did not want to go to jail. 

The former worker contacted MPI again by phone to tell them about the steel pipe. They said MPI told them the case was closed and nothing more could be done without proof. 

“We went through the right channels. We went to the owner first, nothing was done. We went to MPI, nothing was done. We didn’t want to leave it,” said the former worker who made the complaint. 

At this point, worried for the welfare of the herd and with nowhere else to turn, the former worker contacted farm animal advocacy group, Farmwatch. 

Farmwatch installed hidden cameras in the milking shed to gather proof.

Farmwatch volunteer investigator, John Darroch, said he has spent time in milking sheds in the past and knew good farming practice. He was shocked at what was caught on camera. 

“I was stunned and sickened by what I saw. The level of anger towards the cows was quite disturbing to see.”  

This footage has now been supplied to MPI in the hope something can be done.  

“We’re willing to co-operate with MPI so that they can prosecute people based off our hidden camera footage. This includes a willingness to give formal statements to MPI and to appear in court as witnesses," Darroch said.

Newsroom contacted the farm owner, who confirmed the sharemilker is employed at the farm. When asked about complaints raised with him about his employee's treatment of cows he said he wouldn’t talk to news operators and hung up.

Newsroom also contacted MPI to see if the investigation has been reopened but received a response simply saying it did not discuss individual cases.

Read more: 

A long history of animal cruelty and neglect

‘Abhorrent’ behaviour has no place in dairy industry

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