Violence is at the heart of factory farming

Let’s all stop pretending that Chilliwack was an isolated incident.

Worker about to beat cowNR
Worker about to beat a cow. Photo by Mercy for Animals

Eight employees at a Chilliwack, B.C., dairy farm — the biggest in Canada — are fired after Mercy for Animals releases video showing the workers beating, kicking, whipping and punching cows and even pulling one by the neck using chains attached to a raised tractor bucket.

(If you have the stomach for it, the video is here.)

Montreal-based Saputo Inc., Canada’s largest milk processor, announces it will no longer buy milk from the B.C. Milk Marketing Board that has been supplied by the offending farm. The Marketing Board reacts by suspending deliveries from Chilliwack Cattle Sales, but reverses itself the next day when the farm says it is now following orders issued by the B.C. SPCA. Other purchasers follow Saputo’s example, however, so the Board announces it will destroy any milk already purchased.

A co-owner of the family-held farm, Jeff Kooyman, says he is devastated and horrified by the abuse and tells CBC it was the actions of a night crew gone bad. “The guys were going crazy. I couldn’t imagine how people could do that to animals. … This is a family farm and this is not what we’re all about … Maybe I failed to instill the passion and love that we have into our employees.” He promises to install cameras and work with the SPCA to better train staff.

The B.C. and Canadian dairy farmer associations join the universal chorus of condemnation, calling the actions disgusting and a black mark on the industry.

Hurray! The bad guys are punished and the good guys step in to make sure that such evil practices, which are of course just isolated incidents, never happen again.


Chilliwack Cattle Sales may have begun as a family farm in the ’50s, but it now has 3,500 animals in its dairy operations. The label “family farm” is part of the sophisticated  marketing of industries that want consumers to associate their products with images of Ol’ Bessy chewing clover in the fields, Wilbur happily rolling in the mud and little yellow chicks running around mommy as she pecks at grain in the gravel driveway.

Like most dairy, cattle, pork and chicken producers in the modern agriculture economy, Chilliwack Cattle Sales is a factory farm. In the best of circumstances, cows are tightly penned, pumped full of antibiotics as a preventative measure, and are rarely inspected — let alone treated —  by expensive veterinarians.

Cows in factory farms are cogs in the production wheel, interchangeable and easily replaced. Costs of caring for them are kept to the minimum and concern for their welfare is motivated purely by economics of milk production. That’s not spin from some eco-terrorist, that’s also the way the industry itself views it.

The industry also knows that images of cows being abused is bad for sales. Even under ideal animal-care conditions, they want consumers to spend as little time as possible thinking about how their food travels from placenta to plate. They don’t want you thinking about the inconsolable moaning of cows after their new-born calves are whisked away, let alone seeing images of the beating of these docile animals. They don’t want you thinking about the life of a cow forced into repeated lactation cycles until she has reached about one-fifth of her natural 20-year life span — and is then butchered for beef.

These facts aren’t secret — farmers will even brag about the efficiency of their animal husbandry. To other farmers. But they don’t want you thinking about it, because then you might start thinking about alternatives.


The Kooyman family does not “love” their cows. That’s a little like a pimp saying he’s in the business because he loves women. And when the pimp has a stable of 3,500, that love is spread pretty thin. No, the Kooymans love the money their cows bring in and have created a factory assembly line where workers learn to see any cows that disrupt that line as nuisances.

Animal abuse in factory farming and processing is not isolated, it’s a natural offshoot of a system that treats cattle like … cattle. There’s no room for empathy on the factory floor, no slowing the line because of a lame cow, no bandaging an infected sore, no gentle prodding of an animal that refuses to go in the direction dictated by its caretakers.

Jeff Kooyman and other industry spokesmen say they’re shocked that physical abuse was happening, but it would be more shocking if they didn’t know. The “out-of-control” night crew that took the heat included employees who Kooyman admits had been there  “several years.” And Jamie Vissers, a farm supervisor and one of the eight fired workers, told CTV News the Kooymans knew “80 per cent of what was going on.” As well, the former farm employee who made the tape said he had repeatedly brought his concerns to the owners, but the Kooymans failed to take any action.

History shows guilty verdicts are rare in farm abuse cases and that any punishment will likely be light. If the fired employees and the farm are eventually charged, as the SPCA has recommended, a trial may shed more light on who knew what and when. But it won’t end abuse. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that when you are immersed in a work culture that places little value on the life of animals, you either go along … or you go.

One 2009 study that looked at slaughterhouse workers found that rates of all sorts of violent crime — rape, assault, murder, domestic abuse —  were higher in areas where these workers lived, even after eliminating other possible variables such as immigration, race, income, age and gender.

University of Windsor criminology professor Amy Fitzgerald, who led the study, told Psychology Today that “the etiology of the problem remains something of a chicken-and-egg puzzle. Do slaughterhouses desensitize workers to killing? Or, could the work attract people who are less sensitive to begin with?”

Chicken or egg, violence is endemic to factory farming and is the very heart of the meat-processing industry. We shouldn’t be surprised when some of the guardians beat or torture prisoners on their inevitable route to the slaughterhouse.

By all means, let’s do our best to reduce or eliminate the malicious treatment of feed animals, but let’s not pretend we’re putting an end to the violence. Let’s stop pretending their deaths, or their lives, are dignified or painless, like some euthanasia scene from Soylent Green. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.