The video the group Mercy for Animals released last December were, in all senses of the word, brutal. The edited clips allegedly showed dairy cows at the Wiese Brothers Farm being beaten, kicked, whipped, injured, and dragged along the ground by tractors when they were too ill or hurt to move. The images are so disturbing that YouTube makes you sign in as a proof of age.
The video went viral on the Internet, according to radio station WTAQ. And now it appears that four dairy workers have been charged with mistreating animals, according to the Racine Country Journal Times. Abelardo Jaimes, Lucia Martinez, Misael Monge-Minero, and Crescencio Pineda allegedly each faces two or three charges, with each charge carrying a maximum penalty of nine months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
National livestock expert and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin called the behavior exhibited in the footage "severe animal abuse," according to a statement on a site run by Mercy for Animals. "The actions of these people went beyond rough handling and escalated to the level of cruelty. Kicking, beating, and hard whipping of downed cows is abusive."
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wiese Brothers has one of the largest dairy operations in the state, with 8,000 cows, 2,500 of which produce milk. The Wiese family released a statement saying that it was "shocked and saddened" by the video. The farm said that it fired two workers and reassigned one to non-animal duties. The business also said at the time that it was cooperating with a Brown County Sheriff's Department investigation.
The farm was formerly a supplier to Nestlé USA, which used the milk in some cheese on its DiGiorno pizzas, and a milk cooperative called Foremost Farms. Both companies cut ties with Wiese. Nestlé said the following in a statement:
"Nestlé is outraged and deeply saddened by the mistreatment of animals shown in this video. We buy cheese from Foremost Farms (of Baraboo), which gets milk from the Wiese Brothers Farm. However, we do expect all of our suppliers and their suppliers to meet our stringent guidelines. We have advised Foremost Farms that we will not accept any cheese made with milk from the Wiese Brothers Farm."
In a statement, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation also called the behavior "reprehensible and disgusting" and said that "there is no place for this sort of behavior on farms."
State Veterinarian Paul J. McGraw told the Journal Sentinel that he thought animal cruelty on farms was uncommon, but that it could happen on any size establishment.
Some farmers said that some of the scenes could be misinterpreted, according to another Journal Sentinel report. "When you have a downed cow with milk fever, you have to try and get her back on her feet as soon as possible," said dairy farmer Paul Rozadowski to the paper. "Otherwise, the muscles in the back of her legs turn to mush and she will never get up again." But the farmers who said some of the scenes could be explained did not try to defend others, like the suspension in mid-air of a disabled cow by a mechanical lift.
The four defendants are scheduled to appear in court on March 4.
Farm owner Mark Wiese told the Journal Times that employees are required to read and sign a human treatment policy and that, since the video, the farm has taken additional steps, including having a supervisor monitor care when a cow falls or drops and having three specialists for animals that cannot stand because of illness or injury.