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British Columbia dairy farm confronts abuse allegations

The owners say they were unaware and are co-operating fully with an investigation

Allegations of animal abuse against eight employees of a B.C. dairy farm are under investigation by the provincial Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after videos showing scenes of alleged mistreatment were released by a Toronto-based vegan organization opposed to livestock production.

Jeff Kooyman, co-owner of the Chilliwack Cattle Company, said it is co-operating with the BC-SPCA in the criminal investigation. “We were not given a chance to view the footage until it aired on television,” he said. “Now that it has aired, we are taking immediate action to terminate all employees involved as well as take several steps to ensure that this type of abuse never happens again.”

That includes longer training periods for new employees and animal welfare training for all current employees, he said. As well, closed circuit cameras will be installed to monitor the 35,000 cattle on the family-owned operation. The farm was opened for media tours.

“We deeply apologize for what happened,” Kooyman said. “We cannot stress further how much the actions of these young men have shocked our family. This does not reflect at all on the care or respect our family has for animals and we will do everything necessary to make sure this never happens again.”

The treatment of the animals was condemned by Wally Smith, a B.C. dairy farmer and president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, which has been one of the leaders in developing care codes for the humane treatment of farm animals. The dairy code implemented in 2009 includes an animal care module based on the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle.

“I hate to see animals mistreated,” Smith said. “I was very upset, disgusted and devastated upon hearing the news. This treatment of animals is intolerable, and not how most people care for their animals. Animal abuse is never, never OK — animals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Smith said authorities acted quickly to ensure any mistreatment doesn’t reoccur.

The Mercy for Animals group released videos in Toronto taken by an undercover video camera that shows farm workers viciously kicking, punching, beating, and hitting cows in the face and body with chains, canes, metal pipes, and rakes. They also depict animals suffering from inadequate veterinary care and sick and injured cows being lifted by chains around their necks.

Dave Taylor, chairman of the B.C. Dairy Association, said in a statement that two vets — Dr. David Dykshorn and Dr. Rich Vanderwal of the Abbotsford Veterinary Clinic — regularly visit the farm and monitor animal health.

“We have had a working relationship with the Kooymans for over 20 years and can speak to their integrity and care for their animals,” their statement said.

Taylor said the video footage is shocking and damaging to the industry’s reputation. “Having witnessed the footage, we are deeply shaken. Organizationally, we will be taking proactive steps to further our already strong animal care practices.”

Kooyman said his family will continue to work with BC-SPCA and regulatory authorities during the investigation. “In addition, we will be taking any and all steps necessary to assure that no such incident takes place on our family farm in the future. As a farming family we are committed to providing the best care for our animals and have zero tolerance for animal abuse.”

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