FAIR OAKS — A Florida-based animal welfare group released disturbing footage Tuesday of animal abuse at Fair Oaks Farms, located in northwest Indiana.
The farm is a popular tourist attraction off of I-65 between Indianapolis and Chicago, and offers tours of their dairy operations to visitors and student field trips.
The Animal Recovery Mission conducted an undercover investigation between August and November 2018 after one of their investigators was hired as a calf care employee at the Fair Oaks Farms Prairies Edge North Barn.
Undercover video captured employees throwing calves in and out of their huts, calves kicked and slammed to the ground, a worker sitting on top of a calf.
The investigator also witnessed calves being stabbed and beaten with steel rebars, hit in the mouth and face with hard plastic milking bottles, and faces and bodies burned with hot branding irons, according to the Animal Recovery Mission.
Read the full ARM report here.
The undercover worker was instructed, according to the report, to transport dead calves using back roads to a hidden dump area.
“At no time shall a tourist or tour bus see the workers disposing of the dead,” read the report. “This would hurt the image of the company.”
The group also alleges employees used marijuana and cocaine while working on the farm.
The report also alleges employees shot sick and injured cows, but did not shoot properly, which led to hours of pain and suffering before dying.
In the video, calves appear to be struggling to breath without receiving proper medical treatment.
Fair Oaks Farms founder Mike McCloskey provided the following statement to RTV6 Tuesday in which he called the employees’ actions “despicable.”
“This morning I was made aware of an animal abuse video that the group Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) produced and has released to the public and the press. Most of the footage for this video was captured on one of the dairies that belongs to Fair Oaks Farms. While we were made aware a couple months ago of the fact that ARM had gone undercover at Fair Oaks Farms, and had proactively made a statement (link), we had no idea what kind of footage had been captured or what – if any – abuse had occurred.
It is with great disappointment to find, after closely reviewing the released ARM video, that there were five individuals committing multiple instances of animal cruelty and despicable judgement. Of the five, four were our employees and one was a 3rd party truck driver who was picking up calves. Of the four who were our employees, three had already been terminated prior to us being made aware months ago of the undercover ARM operation, as they were identified by their co-workers as being abusive of our animals and reported to management. So, in this instance our policy of cow care training - “see something, say something” - worked. After reviewing the video frame-by-frame, those three employees are responsible for the overwhelming majority of offenses seen in this video.
Unfortunately, the fourth employee’s animal abuse was not caught at that same time. Although he underwent another training session in animal care when we discovered there was an undercover ARM operation on our farm, after viewing the extent of his animal abuse, he is being terminated today.
As to the individual who worked for the transportation company, today, we will notify the company that he works for and he will not be allowed on our farms again. It is our position that any companies that come in contact with transportation of our animals, should be well-versed in and adhere to our industry’s animal welfare practices which can be found in FARM (https://nationaldairyfarm.com [nationaldairyfarm.com]).
Months ago, when I first learned of the undercover activity, I requested a 3rd party review and we went through a re-training process throughout the dairies. While the review came back favorable, I am not letting my guard down and will institute more thorough monitoring and training so that this abuse can never happen again. This video and any future videos will be immediately handed over to the authorities for review and potential prosecution.
Regardless, I am disgusted by and take full responsibility for the actions seen in the footage, as it goes against everything that we stand for in regards to responsible cow care and comfort. The employees featured in the video exercised a complete and total disregard for the documented training that all employees go through to ensure the comfort, safety and well-being of our animals.
It is a shock and an eye-opener for us to discover that under our watch, we had employees who showed disregard for our animals, our processes and for the rule of law. This ARM video shines a light on an area that – despite our thorough training, employee onboarding procedures and overall commitment to animal welfare – needs improvement. However, as I have stated before, the fact that ARM takes months before notifying owners or authorities regarding on-going animal abuse is concerning. I have personally reached out to ARM’s founder, Richard Kudo, to discuss a more symbiotic relationship but he has yet to reach back.
A full investigation of all aspects of the video is underway, during and after which disciplinary action will be taken, including termination and criminal prosecution, of any and all employees and managers who have violated either our animal care practices or the law or both.
The statement that we grow and sell drugs on our farms is false. The plants featured in the video are an invasive perennial species that is rampant on farms all over the midwest. With that said, I am disappointed to learn of potential drug use on our properties. Months ago, the individual seen smoking by the barn and doing drugs in a truck was turned in by his co-workers to one of our managers. That manager notified local law enforcement about the drug use and, accordingly, a police report is on file.
It is with a heavy heart that I prepare this statement today. As a veterinarian whose life and work is dedicated to the care, comfort and safety of all animals, this has affected me deeply. I am disappointed for not being aware of this kind of awful treatment occurring and I take full responsibility for what has happened. I also take full responsibility to correct and ensure that every employee understands, embraces and practices the core values on which our organization stands.
I am and will continue to be deeply involved in the resolution of this matter, down to every one of our employees, so that I can guarantee that these actions never again occur on any of our farms.”
The evidence and report were sent to the Newtown County Sheriff’s Office for review.
“We are asking Fair Oaks Farms to leave with the calves with their mothers moving forward,” said ARM founder Richard Couto told RTV6. “They’re dying from not eating and want their mother’s udders.”
Couto said he’s also asking the farm to not send calves to veal operations.
Fair Oaks produces dairy products for the Fairlife milk brand, based in Chicago.
Call 6 Investigates sent an email to Fairlife Tuesday asking about the undercover video.
Couto said Fair Oaks Farms should sever its ties with Fairlife and the farm should get out of the milk industry entirely.
Call 6 Investigates reached out to the United States Department of Agriculture, and a spokesperson said they’re looking into the matter.