On the heels of recently proposed legislation in Florida and Iowa that would make the filming or photographing of factory farm operations a crime, comes an undercover video made by Mercy for Animals (MFA) at a Texas cattle ranch.
The video is so graphic and disturbing you must be forewarned; it will take courage to watch it. The sudden, loud sound of a pickaxe slamming down on the head of a young calf in the opening moments of the film is appalling.
According to Mercy for Animals, some of the horrors that occurred were:
- Workers bludgeoning calves in their skulls with pickaxes and hammers — often involving 5 to 6 blows, sometimes more — before rendering the animals unconscious.
- Beaten calves, still alive and conscious, thrown onto dead piles.
- Workers kicking downed calves in the head, and standing on their necks and ribs.
- Calves confined to squalid hutches, thick with manure and urine buildup, and barely large enough for the calves to turn around or fully extend their legs.
- Gruesome injuries and afflictions, including open sores, swollen joints and severed hooves.
- Ill, injured and dying calves denied medical care.
- The budding horns of calves burned out their skulls without painkillers.
Mercy for Animals Undercover Investigation
The video was made by an MFA undercover investigator during two weeks in March 2011 at the E6 Cattle Ranch in Hart, Texas. Daniel Hauff, Director of Investigations for MFA, told me the undercover investigator was hired as a carpenter by E6 Cattle Ranch owner, Kirt Espenson.
During his brief tenure there, the investigator was told by Espenson the only form of “euthanasia” was to use pickaxes and other instruments for the purpose of bludgeoning. When the investigator confronted Espenson asking him to purchase a gun for a more humane way of killing the calves, he reluctantly agreed to purchase another .22 caliber weapon because it was the least expensive available.
This in spite of the fact that when a .22 caliber weapon was used earlier at E6 Cattle Ranch, it was not powerful enough to pierce the calves’ skulls. Hauff also told me during a recent meeting between MFA and the Castro County District Attorney’s office that Chief Deputy Thomas Taylor of the Castro County Sheriff Department commented it was common knowledge a .22 caliber isn’t powerful enough to pierce a calf’s skull.
Hauff also told me that MFA has a video of the purchase of another .22 caliber rifle at a pawn shop with the pawn shop workers saying “a .22 is not the way to go.”
The Industry Standard
For the majority of people who get their food from their local supermarket, understanding just where the food comes from and how it gets there can be a real eye-opener. Castro County is no different from other rural, agricultural areas in the U.S.A.
Castro County is primarily agri-business cattle farms and dairy farms. E6 Cattle Ranch purchases many of their calves when they are only one day old. The reason: a dairy farmer’s product is the cow’s milk. A calf takes away from a dairy farmer’s profit, so male calves are routinely either sold to feed lots like E6–where calves are raised for veal–or killed outright. Female calves may be kept for future dairy production.
When a newborn animal is removed from his mother, keeping him alive is labor-intensive. They require round-the-clock feeding with a substitute mother’s milk and the calf’s immune system does not get all the antibodies it requires to stay healthy.
These calves are more prone to pneumonia and other infections. When you are talking the large numbers–like 50,000 calves or more–on a factory farm, the demands of individual attention for the livestock becomes arduous at best.
Other News Stories
Even more egregious is a Channel 19 Action News video interview with Espenson, the E6 Cattle Ranch owner. Espenson appears contrite in the news interview stating, “It looks wrong, it looks inhumane, every part about that video is…is undefendable.”
Espenson says he takes responsibility for his workers and has fired the four caught on tape abusing the calves. Yet, the undercover video released Wednesday clearly shows Espenson answering one of the workers with “yeah” when asked if using a hammer is okay to kill the calves if they can’t find the worker with a gun. MFA is also alleging Espenson had no animal welfare policies in place and consistently refused to provide medicine or veterinary care to the crossbreed calves.
Espenson also did an interview with a local radio show host, Trent Loos. Loos can be heard asking Espenson if he thought the MFA cameraman “coerced” the E6 employee into using a hammer rather than a gun to kill a calf. Even though Espenson clearly responded in the negative and went on to take full responsibility for anything that happened at the ranch, Loos–again–asks him about a possible coercion angle.
It is then Espenson accuses the MFA cameraman of participating in the abuse. When asked about this, Hauff told me the undercover investigator did what he was told by Espenson while he was employed at E6 in order to maintain his undercover status.
Hauff also informed me that a large part of his job is providing counseling and emotional support to the undercover operatives. Witnessing and even participating in the atrocities they are attempting to bring to light is a stressful existence.
The cruelty uncovered in this latest MFA video is visibly horrific. Loos did state “it [the MFA video] is tough for anybody even in [animal] agriculture to watch.”
Reporter Scott Taylor, 19 Action News, said the abuse at E6 Cattle Ranch is much worse than what was exposed at Conklin Dairy Farm in Ohio last year. The Conklin case showed workers caught on tape stabbing cows in the face with pitchforks and other atrocities. “I didn’t think it could get any worse,” said Taylor in his on-air report. “It just did.”
There was a huge public outcry as a result of the expose and in September 2010, the Conklin Dairy farm worker seen on the Mercy for Animals undercover video, Billy Joe Gregg, Jr., pled guilty to six counts of cruelty to animals–a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to eight months jail time and a fine of $1,000.
The maximum penalty for this type of animal cruelty in Castro County, Texas is two years in state prison. But it could also end up being a mere Class A misdemeanor. “We’ve got cattle-oriented people here in this county,” said Horton to Examiner.com explaining why he thinks Espenson will not do any jail time.
It seems counterintuitive to outlaw undercover videotaping and photographing of this type of abuse. And yet both Florida and Iowa are trying to achieve just that. If a human voice cannot be heard in defense of voiceless animals, what sort of society have we become? What sort of example is that to give our children?
It is interesting to note that Espenson claims he was unaware the animals were being bludgeoned to death by his employees. In light of the negative press when this video went public last week, he is now trying to manage public relations issues by firing the four employees in question and claims he is implementing policies for animal welfare.
Hauff told me, “It’s a top down problem with the owner of the facility,” and MFA is calling for full prosecution of Espenson.
Are you frustrated yet? There are things you can do.
How You Can Help
Sign the Care2 petition and raise your voice against operations like these.
Photo of a calf Flickr: Marji Beach