Embattled dairy farmers Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore say the industry must fight back against veganism and tell the public about the benefits of dairy in a balanced diet.

The Suffolk-based couple spoke out after militant US vegan activists subjected them to five days of death threats and insults after they posted a photos on social media about their new triplet calves.

Vegan activists branded the Crickmores “murderers” and “rapists” and compared them to slave owners in a torrent of hate-filled abuse on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

See also: 10 top tweets to kick-start #Februdairy

The activists even targeted their two young children.

The Crickmores, who run 356ha Fen Farm Dairy, near Bungay, in Suffolk, won the Farmers Weekly Diversification Farmer of the Year Award last year.

Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore stand in a field with a herd of cows

Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore were bombarded with online abuse © Tim Scrivener

Farmers Weekly judges singled out the couple as dairy innovators who had turned their struggling dairy business around after they decided to sell their milk directly to the public through vending machines.

Death threats

Mr Crickmore said: “The death threats were really disturbing. They were telling us they would come and take our children away and saying: ‘How do you feel about that?’

“There were also some really disgusting words and accusations thrown at us.

“Telling somebody you hope they die of cancer is pretty revolting. The words ‘rapist’, ‘murderer’ and ‘slavery’ were used. It got out of hand.

“As dairy farmers, we have a responsibility to tell the public when we are being picked on and stand up for farmers and get our side of the argument across.”

Suffolk police were contacted about the abuse and an officer went out to see them.

The Crickmores later wrote on Facebook: “We never, ever slaughter calves. All of our calves, both male and female, including the beautiful triplets in my last post, stay with us on our own farm into adulthood and live free-ranging low-pressure lives.

“The females join our free-ranging milking herd. The males join our free-ranging beef herd. Our adult beef animals are sent to our closest slaughter house, to minimise travelling time and to help reduce food miles.

“Our milking cows are well cared for and are allowed to produce a comfortable amount of milk. We don’t push them to overproduce. This means they are happier, healthier, live longer and their bodies are comfortable.”

The couple believe their farm was targeted because they have a website and are active on social media.

Public support

But the vegan onslaught backfired.

Sales of their cheese and raw milk have increased and they have received hundreds of five-star reviews.

“We went from 35 five-star ratings to nearly 1,000,” said Mr Crickmore. “The activists tried to damage our business, but people responded in the opposite way.

“We had an unbelievable level of support from the public.”

The Crickmores appeared on ITV’s This Morning on Monday (5 February) which saw them engage in a debate with Australian vegan activist Joey Carbstrong (real name Joey Armstrong).

A shot from This Morning showing Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby along with guests Joey Carbstrong and farmers Jonny and Dulice Crickmore

Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore (far right) debated the dairy industry with vegan Joey Carbstrong on ITV’s This Morning hosted by Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby © Steve Meddle/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

Mr Carbstrong accused the dairy industry of “separating calves from their mother” and “raping cows” by using artificial insemination.

Mr Crickmore said all farmers had a duty to treat animals with respect, but he noted the UK is among the best countries for animal welfare.

“Of course, we can always improve animal welfare, for example, by reducing journey times to abattoirs,” he added.

“But farmers have not been treated very well over the years and to be subjected to this level of abuse is unfair.

“People really need to think about where this is going and make sure it doesn’t escalate. All that these people are doing is stirring up hatred.”

Vegan Society condemns death threats

The Vegan Society has lambasted rogue vegans who are sending farmers deaths threats.

A spokesman said: “Veganism rejects violence and encourages compassion towards living beings and this incident is not representative of the vegan movement as a whole.

“We certainly condemn any threats of violence and encourage vegan activists to share their messages peacefully and positively.

“Vegans rely on farmers for food. We are not against them. But we do want to see an end to animal agriculture as a whole and a transition to a more sustainable, healthier and compassionate farming system.”

Meanwhile, writing on Twitter, livestock farming critic George Monbiot urged his “vegan friends” to “keep it civil and friendly, however strongly you disagree”.

He tweeted: “Respectful argument: yes. Abuse, insults and threats: never.”

Dairy chief rejects ‘grow pulses’ plea

NFU dairy leader Michael Oakes has scoffed at vegan calls for dairy farmers to quit the industry and instead grow pulses “to help mitigate climate change”.

Mr Oakes was responding to the claim by “independent vegans” group TellItLikeItReallyIs.co.uk, which blamed the dairy and meat industries especially for harming the natural world.

The group wants dairy farmers to “make the switch to plant-protein agriculture” and it says the UK climate is perfect for growing a diverse range of plant proteins, including beans, peas, hemp, pulses, seeds, wheat and oats.

But Mr Oakes said the statement was “too simplistic” and he pointed out the benefits of growing organic crops using cows’ manure.

“Taking livestock out of the farming system in favour of plant-based agriculture would only result in the use of more artificial fertilisers, which would be worse for the environment,” he added.

Mr Oakes said UK dairy farmers had made huge progress in reducing its environmental impact following the introduction of the Dairy Roadmap in 2008.

“We’re always looking at what we do and how we can do things better. But there is no compromise with some of the more militant vegans,” he added.

Campaigners target England rugby match

The Go Vegan World campaign targeted England’s opening Six Nations rugby game with electronic advertising hoardings.

TV viewers were shown messages at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday (3 February) that read “Dairy takes babies from their mothers”.

The campaign highlights the money behind the vegan campaign, which has sparked controversy in the farming industry.

Five tips for dealing with vegan activists

Independent livestock sustainability consultant Jude Capper, who founded the #Februdairy campaign, has offered advice to farmers when dealing with vegan activists online:

  1. Keep answers short, positive and factual to promote a “clear message” on dairy
  2. Only answer and engage with sensible questions
  3. Don’t reply to people who are rude or get personal
  4. Call out obvious untruths and use evidence (pictures and videos are great) to address myths and lies
  5. Think carefully before you block someone online as they think you are “rattled” or have something to hide.

See also: 7 ways to deter incursions by pig activists