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May 27, 2010

Disturbing Abuse Uncovered At Ohio Dairy Farm

I have been traveling around Ohio the past few days with a half-dozen livestock farmers, who had assembled to speak out in favor of the ballot measure to ban some of the most inhumane and reckless practices in industrialized agribusiness. But the big news on the farm animal front in Ohio during the last 24 hours was the release of graphic and sickening video of dairy cow abuse at Conklin Dairy in Plain City.

Mercy for Animals investigation of Ohio dairy farm

An investigator with Mercy For Animals was hired by Conklin Dairy and recorded hidden camera video during a four-week undercover operation. The video shows several employees, including farm owner Gary Conklin, abusing cows for no apparent reason. A well-known farmer in central Ohio, Conklin is seen on the video repeatedly kicking a downer cow in the face. The most malicious acts in the video were conducted by Conklin Dairy employee Billy Joe Gregg, 25. Gregg not only body slammed and repeatedly and forcefully punched cows, but stabbed confined animals with pitchforks and ruthlessly struck them in the face with a metal bar. Gregg was seen on the video telling the investigator how much he loved beating the animals. 

Gregg was taken into custody yesterday and arraigned this morning, facing 12 counts of animal cruelty. No charges have been brought as yet against the farm owner or the other employees, and presumably the farm is still operating. Gary Conklin issued a statement yesterday after the video came to light. "Our family takes the care of our cows and calves very seriously," Conklin said. "The video shows animal care that is clearly inconsistent with the high standards we set for our farm and its workers, and we find the specific mistreatment shown on the video to be reprehensible and unacceptable." Conklin did not address his own apparent misconduct in the video.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture inspected the facility three times within the last year, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Officials said they did not witness any abuse and approved it as a “Grade A” facility, meaning that the milk can be sold commercially for any purpose.

Union County Sheriff Rocky Nelson told the Dispatch that the behavior he saw on the videotape was "vile and disgusting." "If there was a way this could be a felony charge, I would push for that," Nelson said.

Unfortunately, Ohio’s anti-cruelty law does not allow for felony-level charges for farm animal abuse, no matter how malicious the act. This is due to the lobbying influence of Ohio agribusiness interests.

Those same interests are fighting the Ohio ballot initiative to halt the abuse of downer cows, the strangulation of animals on the farm, and life-long confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens in cages and crates barely larger than the animals’ bodies. Volunteers are now circulating the petition and have until June 29 to gather 402,000 signatures of registered voters in Ohio. 

The farmers on the tour with me expressed their disgust for the abuses documented at Conklin Dairy. But they also spoke out against other forms of more routine cruelty within agribusiness, and called on the good people of Ohio to support this reform and return some level of responsible care and husbandry to the practice of animal agriculture.

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