Farmer speaks out after intruders break into calf hutches

Trespassers who broke into a farm to let 45 calves out of their hutches put the animals lives at risk, the farm manager has told Farmers Weekly.

CCTV at the Somerset farm recorded a car entering the farm at 4am last Friday (31 March), which parked with its beams covering the hutches that house up to eight calves each.

“The first thing I noticed when I arrived at work the next morning was a calf in the road,” said Justin Birch, farm manager at the dairy farm in Shepton Mallet.

See also: Farming unites in condemnation of Guardian dairy coverage

“I thought it must have jumped the fence, until I saw a couple more out.”

Mr Birch then examined the hutches to find the metal rods used to secure the pens had been wrenched open and all the calves were loose.

The hutches are larger than those on a Dorset farm featured in the national newspapers last week and are designed to hold older calves of up to 10 weeks.

Justin Birch makes repairs to a calf hutch

It took several hours to gather the calves – including one which had an injured leg. The animals have now been moved to another location.

The incident was reported to police, but the CCTV footage quality was not good enough to identify the car’s number plate.

The motivation of the trespassers was not clear, but Mr Birch had tweeted about using calf hutches earlier in the year.

“I don’t know who it was, whether it was a personal grudge or just a coincidence with everything about calf hutches in the press last week,” he said.

If it was activists, Mr Birch said their actions only endangered the welfare of the calves.

Non-sensical actions

“These people claim to be looking after the rights of animals by putting them in harm’s way – it makes no sense.

“If you leave calves in the road they could quite easily have been run over – others had gorged themselves on cake which, if you eat enough, can kill a calf.”

The farm manager, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the dairy industry, said he would be happy for people to engage him in debate.

“We need to be able to justify all of our practices – which I think I can do.”


He added: “My message to whoever this was would be come and talk to us, don’t break the law.”

“What they did was a criminal act – if someone puts the welfare of my animals at risk they need to suffer the consequences.”

Mr Birch is now installing more CCTV cameras with number plate recognition software to prevent this from happening again.