'CRUELTY' at a Somerset dairy farm that supplied Waitrose has been exposed during an investigation.

Animal Equality carried out the investigation at Coombe Farm, Crewkerne, over the summer, after it was tipped off about the farm's handing practices.

The investigation found calves were allegedly brutally handled and force-fed.

The animal activist group says the footage unearthed a number of issues, including calves being slapped in the face, tubes being 'callously shoved' down their throats, and workers shouting swear words at the newborns.

Chard & Ilminster News: Coombe Farm. Pic: Animal Equality

Chard & Ilminster News: Coombe Farm. Pic: Animal Equality

Calves being fed with the tube

Animal Equality released its full list of discoveries:

  • Newborn calves struggling as workers callously shove a tube down their throat
  • A calf thrown to the ground and slapped in the face during force-feeding
  •  A worker standing on a calf with his full body weight while shouting “you *******. . .****”
  • Cows visibly agitated and trying to intervene as struggling calves call out in distress
  • Calves denied access to water for up to 29 hours on some of the hottest days of the year
  • A newborn calf dragged by its back legs into a separation pen
  • Calves routinely separated from their mothers less than 24 hours after birth
  • Several cows with their back legs chained together in shackles

After viewing the footage from Coombe Farm organic dairy - which is certified by the Soil Association and RSPCA Assured - Animal Equality’s UK Director, Dr Toni Shephard, said:

“Consumers will be shocked to see such cruel treatment of tiny newborn calves, with their heartbroken mothers forced to look on helplessly. That these harrowing scenes are from the much romanticised organic farm producing dairy products for Waitrose will seem almost beyond belief.

“Yet separating mother cows and their babies is an inherent part of dairy farming. The strong maternal bond is broken so that her breast milk can be bottled and sold - to us. Luckily delicious, cruelty-free plant-based milks are now widely available, so concerned consumers can easily ditch dairy.”

Chard & Ilminster News: Coombe Farm. Pic: Animal Equality

A farm worker handling a calf

The farm is certified by the Soil Association, which describes itself as the 'UK’s leading membership charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use'. The charity said an inspection took place the day after it received the report and the issues were raised with the farm team.

According to the Soil Association, changes are being implemented by the farm.

A spokesman said: "All Soil Association organic farms are inspected at least annually, and we treat animal welfare very seriously. If any issues around animal welfare are raised, suitable action is taken immediately, including removal of organic status if required. Our certification team performed an unannounced inspection at Coombe Farm the day after we received the report and raised the issues with the farm team.

"We have taken immediate action in issuing improvement requirements based on particular and unacceptable aspects of animal welfare as observed in the video. All recommendations made by Soil Association Certification staff are being implemented by the farm, including feeding regimes and staff competencies.

"Animal welfare is at the heart of organic and our standards are the highest of any farming system in the UK. The feeding of calves with colostrum (the mother’s first milk) is very important as it’s full of antibodies to build immunity to a range of diseases. Organic standards permit the use of a stomach tube only on sick animals or those having difficulty feeding to ensure calves get the optimum amount of colostrum as soon as possible after birth. Of course, this needs to be done properly by trained staff to ensure that calves are not distressed by the process."

Chard & Ilminster News: Coombe Farm. Pic: Animal Equality

A cow with shackled legs

Although it admits some wrongdoings by the farm, it disputes others. The use of shackles is standard practice to aid recovery after physical damage to their back legs, according to the charity.

The spokesman added: "Shackles are used on cows which have suffered physical damage to the nerves to their back legs, mostly associated with calving. The shackles provide an additional support for the affected cow enabling her to exhibit her normal behaviours. Shackles are left on for the minimum amount of time required for the cow to regain full mobility and are then removed.

"In part of the video, it could appear that some animals are confined to small cages. This is not a true. On this farm, calves access their milk in a small space which they can enter and leave freely. The stall is there to protect a calf having a drink from being knocked by another calf who would also like to have a drink. There is no animal welfare concern with this practice."

Further training has been given to the farm staff following the investigation.

A spokesman for Coombe Farm told the Mirror: "We ensure that any welfare issues raised are dealt with immediately.

"We initiated a request to the Soil Association and RSPCA Assured to visit the farm in question and carried out our own investigation.

"We have addressed any issues of noncompliance for the Soil Association and RSPCA Assured, and have implemented further training for farm staff."

Coombe Farm has been contacted by the News for comment.

A spokesman for Waitrose said: “This does not meet the high standards we set for a farm supplying us. We suspended the farm and launched a full investigation.”

The RSPCA have also been asked to comment.