Audit of Fair Oaks Farms following clandestine filming likely to be completed early next week

Fair Oaks Farms

A video released by an animal rights organization shows young calves being kicked in the head, dead calves' bodies piled together in the dirt and alleged drug use at Fair Oaks Farms.

The popular Fair Oaks property in Newton County has been called the “Disneyland” of dairy and is now accused of being “one of the cruelest dairy companies on the planet” by Animal Recovery Mission, an animal rights group based in Miami Beach, Florida.

Fair Oaks issued a statement on social media Tuesday saying four employees shown in the video have been fired, and actions have been taken to prevent further abuse.

“Due to the many years Fair Oaks Farms has been in business, it is impossible to number the amount of calves and cows that have inhumanely died at the hands of this company,” said Rachel Taylor, a spokeswoman for Animal Recovery Mission.

In a news conference Tuesday, Taylor gave details of the investigation.

The probe included an investigator from the animal rights group who went undercover after becoming employed by Fair Oaks Farms from August to November 2018 as a calf care employee. Fair Oaks officials previously have acknowledged the undercover probe.

"Most of the footage for this video was captured on one of the dairies that belongs to Fair Oaks Farms,” said Mike McCloskey, founder of Fair Oaks Farms, in a statement Tuesday. “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, we had no idea what kind of footage had been captured or what — if any — abuse had occurred.”

During the investigator's employment, a hidden camera captured other employees striking calves with their hands, branding irons and steel rods.

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McCloskey acknowledged in the statement that four of the people shown committing alleged abuses were Fair Oaks Farms employees, and one person was a third-party truck driver who was transporting calves.

“As a veterinarian whose life and work is dedicated to the care, comfort and safety of all animals, this has affected me deeply,” McCloskey said. “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.”

A portion of the video also showed what appeared to be an employee using cocaine in a work vehicle on site and another showed what appeared to be marijuana plants being grown on the property.

In the Fair Oaks statement, McCloskey described the plants as an invasive perennial species.

“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,” McCloskey said. “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.”

However, Richard Couto, ARM founder, said this is not the work of a small group of employees. Couto alleged supervisors and managers are aware of the abuses and either partook in them or allowed the actions to happen.

“I'm one of the more seasoned investigators,” Couto said. “I've never seen this kind of systematic cruelty to a newborn animal anywhere else.”

The footage and report was sent to the Newton County Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Indiana Department of Agriculture, Couto said.

The Newton County Sheriff's Department could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Another piece of footage showed calves being forced out of their enclosures and into a tightly-packed livestock transportation vehicle to allegedly be shipped to a veal farm in North Manchester in Wabash County. The company's official statement did not mention the veal farm allegations but the company website says Fair Oaks Farms do not send their calves to veal farms. The company did not immediately respond to questions about the allegation.

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Night Crime/Breaking News Reporter

Anna Ortiz is the breaking news/crime reporter for The Times, covering crime, politics, courts, investigative news and more. She is a Region native and graduate of Ball State University with a major in journalism and minor in anthropology.