Like the egg industry, the dairy industry is often overlooked by otherwise compassionate diners as innocuous. Some vegetarians even believe that hens and cows live pretty decent lives. But as most vegans will tell you, the horrors that take place inside battery-egg sheds and dairy farms are as egregious as anything that happens in other factory farms ― maybe even more so. Which is why the latest investigation by Mercy For Animals (MFA) is so important. For two months early last year, an MFA investigator worked inside the Willet Dairy in Locke, New York, recording the callous treatment of cows. The largest mega-dairy in New York State, Willet confines 7,500 cows and ships 40,000 gallons of milk a day, mostly to New York City.

Armed with a hidden camera and keeping a detailed written account, the Mercy For Animals investigator witnessed workers cutting off cows’ tails (tail docking) and burning off their horns (a procedure known as disbudding). The investigator’s notes explain what he observed: “A worker restrains the calves and ties their mouths shut with rope, then burns off the newly budding horns with a hot iron. The calves struggle but, bound and gagged, there is not much that they can do. The worker sticks his fingers in their eyes as he restrains them. They make gurgling noises, kick, and several fall over. Some calves choke up what appeared to be vomit from the pain.

“The worker then docks the tails using a tool that is mainly used to castrate bulls. He attaches it to the calves’ tails and turns it until the ends of the tails tear off, after which he cauterizes the exposed vertebrae. The animals receive no anesthesia, and are clearly in extreme pain.”

The investigator says he saw dozens of calves with fresh, bloody wounds where their horns had been burned off. “My supervisor told me that this was his favorite job. ‘(We) burn ‘em… It’s this little iron… and you put it on the little nubs on their head and it kills it off. It’s like, ‘sssssss.’ I used to love doing that.’

“’The cows don’t like it?’ I asked.

“‘Would you?’ he replied. ‘Oh fuck, it’s gotta be fucking very painful…. Oh yeah, I used to love that shit… blood and smoke all over the place. YEAH! Hamburger.’”

“During one particularly slow day,” writes the investigator, “my supervisor entertained himself by punching cows in the head. Additionally, he told me stories about prior instances in which he had battered the animals. Last year, he broke his hand by punching a cow in the eye. Another time, he ripped his hand open when he punched a cow in the nose and caught her tooth. He claims that he once clubbed a bull with a 2×4 ‘like Babe Ruth,’ and then repeatedly kicked him in the testicles while he was down. He also said that he locked a cow’s head in a gate and cracked her over the head with a wrench, dropping her to the floor. He thinks he got arthritis from punching cows.”

Not surprisingly, Lyndon Odell, Willet’s CEO, defends his mega-farm’s practices. After viewing the video, he said, “They picked out a few isolated incidents and they’re trying to portray them as something that is malicious on our part, that we don’t do a good job with our animals.” He added that he would fire any employee who abused one of the farm’s cows. “We have a history of firing people who have mistreated animals because that is not where we belong.”

As a result of their investigation, MFA will be announcing that a new bill has been introduced in New York to ban the practice of tail docking cattle. Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal has submitted the language for this bill, and MFA will be holding a news conference tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at the Midtown Executive Club in New York City to release the investigation details and to announce the tail-docking ban bill.

Despite overwhelming evidence of animal cruelty at the Willet factory, authorities refused to pursue criminal charges. “We put together a 40-page legal complaint that we submitted to the DA’s office, as well as to the ASPCA and the local SPCA, all of which have some sort of law-enforcement power,” says MFA’s executive director, Nathan Runkle. “Essentially, we came to a dead end. They just don’t want to take on Big Ag and ag communities.” In December, Nathan says, MFA learned that the DA’s office had no intention of enforcing the law. “We felt there were clear violations of New York animal cruelty laws, because New York is one of the states that does not have common farming exemptions. So we moved forward with working with Assemblymember Rosenthal to introduce a tail-docking bill in New York State. We feel that if they’re not going to uphold the law, then the law needs to be more specific and outlaw tail docking. There’s a good precedent for it since it’s been outlawed in California, and many of the dairy industry’s own publications discourage it.”

Portions of the MFA video will be played in reports to be aired tonight (January 26) on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and later on Nightline.

What You Can Do:

  • If you’re still drinking cow’s milk and eating other dairy products, please go vegan. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to enjoy a delicious, nutritious plant-based diet. Visit ChooseVeg.com for dairy-free recipes and tips for making the transition to a vegan diet.
  • If you live in New York State, please support the soon-to-be-announced bill that will ban tail docking.
  • Support the work of Mercy For Animals. This is an outstanding organization that relies on the generosity of compassionate people to help fund investigations like this one.
  • Finally, please share this story with family and friends ― it’s important that others know what goes on inside mega-dairies.