An undercover video from an animal farm operation has gone viral and is causing a sensation on social media. The video is allegedly secret footage from a dairy farm in New Zealand. It purports to depict a cow that has just given birth in a field. Her hind legs are being propped up by a tractor with chains clamped onto her hips. Nearby lies her dead calf. According to words accompanying the video, the cow was left hanging on the tractor for about half an hour before the farmer came back and started dragging her as her front legs collapsed. The video ends with the words “Drop Dairy.” Its source is a group named Farm Watch.
We don’t have dairy cows on our farm. Aside from our family dog and the occasional barn cat, we don’t have any domesticated animals on our farm and never have in the past. But I personally know a few dairy farmers, and I have met quite a few through social media and blogging. While I am certain there are cases of legitimate abusive circumstances on farms, none of the people I know would ever have the temperament or ability to purposefully mistreat or harm one of their animals. Not to mention, as I have learned from my friends in animal agriculture, proper animal care and welfare is the best way to ensure that an animal and farm remain profitable.
Therefore, after initially viewing the video and feeling uncomfortable about what I had seen, I immediately turned to the source that I trust the most when it comes to dairy cows: dairy farmers.
When a cow is unable to stand on her own, she’s considered a downed cow. The longer she is on the ground, the higher the chance that she will never stand or walk again. Hip lifts, which is the tool used in the video, are used to help the cow stand again. For example, an injured cow that is laying down may not be able to shift her weight, causing her legs to go numb and prohibiting her from standing back up.
According to Jodi from Of Kids and Cows, hip lifts can be life saving devices when used properly. Jodi, along with her husband and three kids, is a dairy farmer from Ohio who recently drove several hours to the Ohio State University with a calf in her van to get the animal lifesaving treatment (unfortunately, despite all her efforts, the calf didn’t survive). Jodi told me that there is a right and wrong way to use lift hips. Obviously, the man using the device in the video was not using it correctly. The cow should not have been left to struggle for half an hour, and an animal should never be moved by a hip lift.
Krista Stauffer is also a dairy farmer. Along with her husband and children, Krista’s farm milks about 130 to 150 cows at a time and she shares her farm story on her blog, The Farmer’s Wifee. The Stauffer farm utilizes hip lifts when necessary. On her blog, Krista shared the story of a cow that went down with milk fever shortly after giving birth and was unable to stand due to calving issues. Milk fever is a calcium deficiency that was quickly cured by providing the cow liquid calcium. She was unable to get up and down on her own. Despite close care and attention, the cow’s back legs were too weak for her to stand and her attempts to do so were futile. Considering the cow weighed over 1,000 pounds, the only way to lift her back legs, and potentially save her life, was to utilize the hip lifts to gently hoist her back end into the air for several minutes at a time. (By the way, Krista also tried massage therapy and acupuncture to help the cow recover … tell me she was being cruel.) Although the cow rallied after a few days, she ultimately had to be put down.
Unfortunately, the legitimate uses and importance of the hip lifts was not at all explained in the viral video. Instead, the tool was depicted as an agent of torture drug out by nasty farmers intent on causing pain and suffering.
See, that’s the thing about these animal abuse videos that pop up and make the rounds on social media. We are shown what the video creator and editor want us to see. We are given a narrative about what is happening in the video, whether or not it’s true. Most unfortunately, these videos come across as concerned workers, consumers, or simply trying to exposing some outrageous animal abuse, when they are usually promoted by an organization with an agenda.
Farm Watch is a New Zealand based group aimed at exposing the alleged cruelty on farms. According to their website, they claim “exposing the reality of animal industries is essential to show the consuming public how farmed animals are bred and killed.” Their entire goal is to paint animal agriculture with a negative brush. Just like other animal rights organizations, they aren’t about telling consumers the truth, they’re about promoting an agenda.
The problem is that it can be extremely hard to tell whether this is legitimately a video showing animal abuse, or a video that is completely staged to influence opinions. PETA has been caught soliciting those sympathetic with their cause to work on farms and perform “undercover investigations.” But many times something legitimate is manipulated to look like something nefarious, such as another recent viral post depicting blood and pus in milk from the farm (no, it wasn’t accurate). Or, even worse, animal abuse might be staged (perhaps like in the subject video?) to be used as propaganda.
If there is animal abuse taking place on farms and someone catches it — on video or otherwise — it should be reported to the proper authorities. Those types of actions should never be tolerated. But the vast, vast majority of farmers do not treat their animals that way. If consumers see something like this and want more information, they should seek out farmers and ask questions. Farmers will not cover for others if there is abuse. We want consumers to trust us and seek us out when they have questions. Just like Jodi and Krista, farmers are usually more than willing to talk and discuss what happens on the farm.
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