An undercover investigation handed to leading UK vegan campaigning charity Viva! has uncovered shocking scenes of animal abuse at a 500-cow dairy farm in west Wales. At the time of filming, Tafarn Y Bugail, supplied First Milk – which was confirmed by email in October 2023. Subsequently links between First Milk and Tafarn Y Bugail were severed on 31 October 2023 and the farm is currently being investigated by local authorities.
Investigators visited the Tafarn on several occasions between February and June 2023, capturing more than 240 hours of footage.
The damning investigation revealed multiple instances of rough handling of cows, with the herd hit on average 75 times per milking. In a particularly harrowing attack, which lasted over seven minutes, one individual cow was hit more than 55 times. Further footage shows the cows being pushed, shoved and kicked in the udder – with two also having their tails twisted.
According to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), “around one quarter of all dairy cows may be experiencing some degree of lameness at any one time” . At Tafarn lameness appears much higher with numerous cows struggling to walk; one was so severely lame that she walked on three legs and at least 17 were seen wearing hobbles. Hobbles are used to tether a cow’s hind legs together to prevent them from causing further injury on slippery and uneven floors. Others had severely distended udders, which also affected their ability to walk.
Dead cows left outdoors causing a health hazard
Investigators found dead cows dumped outdoors where other animals and birds could feed on the corpses. This is a blatant violation of Defra guidance which states that animals who die on a farm must be “collected, identified and transported from [the] farm without ‘undue delay’” and that farm workers must “ensure that animals and birds cannot access the carcass” . Failing to follow this guidance presents a major risk to human health, as wild animals who eat the deceased can spread zoonotic diseases.
In addition, the investigators witnessed wild animals eating a dead calf inside the calving shed. In images that look like scenes from a horror film, the dead calf is pictured having been eaten down to the bone. The carcass was subsequently left in the barn with pregnant cows and a newly born calf for 48 hours, despite being in a state of decay.
Newborn calves left outside on cold winter night
It is common practice in the dairy industry to separate calves from their mothers soon after birth, so that the milk produced by the mother can be taken for human consumption. Newborn calves at Tafarn Y Bugail were separated from their mothers within 12 hours of birth and locked outside in isolated pens. One calf was still wet from birth and visibly shaking due to plummeting winter temperatures. She was also barely able to stand.
A colostrum feed (the first form of milk produced by the mammary glands of humans and other mammals immediately following delivery of the newborn) is required within six hours of birth to stimulate a calf’s immune system. A hidden camera recorded one calf being carried away from her mother by a farm hand at little more than three hours old, which can result in “high instances of diseases such as navel infections, joint illness and scour”.
Rope used to pull calf from mother
In one shocking piece of footage, three farm workers (including a child) intervened in a calving. Workers tied a rope to the calf’s legs – which were partially visible from the cow – and used the rope to pull the calf out. One worker was filmed balancing their entire weight on the rope, while a metal gate is used to lever the calf out. Following the birth, a worker drags the calf in front of the cow and then proceeds to kick the cow in the spine with his heel to get her to stand.
Abscess drained with knife onto milking parlour floor
In another stomach-churning clip, a farm worker can be seen using a knife to burst an abscess on a cow’s rump during milking. The pus from the abscess oozes onto the milking parlour floor for over three minutes. Later, other hobbled cows walk directly through the pus and blood, trailing it out of the milking parlour.
Speaking of the investigation, Viva!’s founder and director Juliet Gellatley said: “This farm is just the latest instalment of cruelty in the endless saga of pain that the dairy industry inflicts on cows. In one particularly harrowing clip, I watched a poor cow get beaten 55 times, causing unimaginable distress. Unable to escape, she had to stand and endure the beating inflicted upon her simply for existing. The images of her suffering will live in my mind forever.
“After watching the appalling footage, I made the decision to investigate myself. Upon arrival, I immediately found a dead calf that had been eaten by wildlife, with her eye and ears missing. I was subsequently confronted with severely malnourished, limping cows confined in hobbles; it was heartbreaking.
“The scenes at Tafarn Y Bugail are truly horrifying: cows dumped outside for wild animals to eat and spread diseases; newborn calves eaten down to the bone; extreme rough handling… the list goes on. Sadly, what we have witnessed at this farm is not an anomaly. This type of mistreatment of cows takes place every day on farms all over the UK and abroad.
“As well as being Red Tractor certified, we know that Tafarn Y Bugail supplies milk to First Milk. Consumers could have consumed dairy products from this farm without knowing it, directly funding the cruelty that is ingrained in factory farming. The only way to stop these farms and show compassion to these poor animals is to cut the demand by going vegan now.”