Allegations of animal cruelty hit close to home for one West Texas cattle company just an hour from Lubbock. The man in charge of the feed yard says he accepts responsibility for what happened on his watch.
"It looks wrong and inhumane. Every part of that video is undefendable," said Kirt Espenson, who owns E-6 Cattle Company which is now at the center of a criminal investigation by the Castro County Sheriff's Office.
Mercy For Animals, an animal rights organization based in Chicago, sent an undercover camera into the E-6 property.
"With a pinhole sized hidden camera, Mercy For Animals' investigator documented shocking acts of cruelty to animals," Chief Investigator for Mercy For Animals Daniel Hauff explained during a news conference. The animal advocacy group randomly selected the Hart feed yard. They have launched 13 similar investigations.
The disturbing video shows calves in pain and documents employees striking calves multiple times in the head with pick axes and hammers. It also shows employees dragging the calves and throwing them, kicking them in the ribs and standing on their necks.
"It's blatant animal abuse to savagely bash in the heads of fully conscious cows with hammers and pickaxes," said Hauff.
Espenson says the calves in the video were suffering from frostbite during the cold spell in March, and needed to be put down. "Euthanizing calves is not a daily or weekly activity," he said. "It just happened to be at a time when protocols were stressed and they did not hold up."
Espenson says he has refreshed his staff of 75 on animal welfare guidelines. "No employee will ever work a day on my feed yard not properly trained on animal welfare," he said. "It is inexcusable, and we're taking this most sincerely to resolve it so it never happens again."
Before he was made aware of the footage, he let the three employees in it go. Espenson believes the others may have left the country. "They were terminated prior because they did not match the quality of employees we try to hire," he said.
The undercover investigator who worked at the yard quit after the he obtained the video.
Mercy For Animals wants tougher laws to protect animals. While Espenson has accepted responsibility, criminal charges are a possibility as officials investigate the allegations of animal cruelty.
"I let an entire industry down by the lack of management I provided," explained Espenson who added that simple employee training could have avoided the situation.
Investigators have a copy of the undercover video. Espenson says he is cooperating with the investigation.
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