Allegations of abuse at WI dairy farm caught on hidden camera

GREENLEAF, Wis. (WITI) -- An animal rights group is accusing workers at an area dairy farm of abusing cows. The group shot a videotape of workers at the farm.

WARNING: Some people may be offended by some of the video in this story.

The California-based vegetarian group "Mercy for Animals" says Wiese Brothers Dairy Farm in Greenleaf, Wis. hired the group's investigator this Fall.

That investigator allegedly caught acts of abuse on a hidden camera -- and the video is making waves, both for the farm and the companies that buy its milk -- even prompting an investigation by local authorities.

"This is video allegedly showing dairy cows being dragged, poked, lifted by their hips, barely able to get their feet under them. We feel that Americans have a right to know where their food comes from. Unfortunately, these factory farms thrive in secrecy," Matt Rice with "Mercy for Animals" said.

The "factory farm" that Rice says these images came from is the sprawling Wiese Brothers farm complex in Greenleaf.

Farm representatives did not want to go on camera right now, but released a statement reading as follows:

"We are shocked and saddened to see a few of our employees not following farm animal care policies. We have zero tolerance for animal abuse."

The farm says it fired two employees and has reassigned a third, away from the daily care of its animals.

The farm says it has also revised its animal care and employee oversight policies.

FOX6's media partners at WLUK showed the video to bovine veterinarian Bill Koffman without explaining where it came from or its context.

"I can tell that's a bunch of people that don't know how to take care of cows. The equipment they are using - such as the hip lift - they are over-lifting those animals. They're beating on an animal that can't get up. I'm not comfortable with that at all," Koffman said.

Neither is Rice. He says his group "Mercy for Animals" doesn't target mega farms.

"We ask these investigators to apply for jobs across the country, go to work at the facility that hires them and document the conditions that they see while they are there," Rice said.

The Wiese Brothers farm video is already impacting business.

The Wiese Brothers farm used to supply its milk to the Baraboo-based cooperative Foremost Farms USA. It supplies dairy products to Nestle, which makes DiGiorno pizza.

The Wiese Brothers farm has now been dropped at Nestle's request.

"We do not tolerate animal cruelty and we immediately called our cheese supplier Foremost Farms to ensure that we would not continue with any farm that was mistreating animals," VP of Nestle Hannah Coan said.

Foremost Farms released the following statement: "We have never condoned this behavior, and we work hard to educate all our members and their employees about the importance of animal care and well-being."

In a statement from Foremost, the cooperative's communications director says the company doesn't condone the behavior in the video and it works to educate its co-op members of the importance of animal care.

The Brown County Sheriff's Department says the release of this video is now making the department's investigation of the abuse claims more difficult to do. It is unclear why.