Viva! reveals the truth about sheep farming in Britain today
It was on a drive through the countryside near where I live that I saw them. Lambs - adorable baby animals, skittish with bursts of youthful exuberance but always staying close to Mum. It’s a scene we all know and welcome as it signals the beginning of Spring and is a heart-warming reminder of new life that this season heralds. The only trouble was that I didn’t see this in Spring, it was mid-January.
Ewe reaching through the bars
Filmed at market: separated from their babies by metal bars, ewes desperately try and keep contact
The BBC’s popular Lambing Live programme is set to return again this year with its portrayal of sheep farming as being steeped inbenign country ways. Millions are captivated by the little new-borns, and who can blame them? But this sanitised TV productiondoesn’t tell the whole story.
With your help, Viva! will this Spring launch a new campaign to lay bare what really happens on sheep farms up and down the country. We have already exposed the myth of the happy and content dairy cow and torn away the façade of free-range egg production. Now, for the sake of those who suffer and die, we intend to get behind the fluffy image portrayed by the media and reveal the real lives of UK sheep - hardship, exposure, mutilation, disease and violent, early death.
Exeter sheep sale
Although this Winter has not been as bitter as the last two, it’s had its share of cold and rain had an extended cold snap in February. It coincided with Viva! investigators undercover visit to livestock markets and, on one particularly freezing morning, Exeter sheep sale. As they arrived, they could hear mournful bleats ringing out across the cavernous, open-sided shed - ewes calling for their lambs and the shriller calls of babies calling for mothers they would never see again.
Crowded on cold conrete
Many sheep were crammed together on bare concrete in the biting cold
A pitiful sign declared, “Orphan lamb sale 11am” - 25 on that particular day. In one pen, looking startled and confused, tiny baby lambs just a few days old stood and waited in an alien environment - for what they didn’t know. In a corner, one lamb shivered uncontrollably in the bitter morning cold.
By being tricked and manipulated, many ewes are now forced to give birth to triplets – even though they have only two teats.
As a consequence, thousands of lambs are rejected at birth by a mother who cannot cope and perhaps some of those we filmed were the sad products of this ‘increased efficiency’.
But there’s worse – each year, a million or so lambs suffer and die from hypothermia – 20 per cent of all new borns – and many of the remainder shiver and struggle through bleak mid-Winter when nature intended they should be born in Spring.
Return visit to Exeter market
Our investigators returned a second time to Exeter market a few days later to see nearly a thousand sheep and lambs packed into small pens.
Most had no bedding and stood on bare concrete in the biting cold. For some lambs, it was the last place they would see before the slaughterhouse, as the market gears to meet the Easter rush.
Exposed, rotting wounds
At the end of the shed they saw a truly pitiful sight - two sheep in appalling condition. Both had exposed wounds on their heads, probably from botched de-horning, one had a large patch of wool missing and the skin beneath was puckered and covered in sores.
The smell of rotting flesh from these two live animals was almost overpowering. Despite their condition, they were sold to the highest bidder today. Where were the vets? You might well ask.
Rotting whilst still alive, this sheep bore horrendous sores
Elsewhere, sheep were moulting despite it still being Winter - a possible sign of stress. As prey animals, sheep are particularly susceptible to stress and, sadly, their lives are filled with it – control by dogs, shearing, the clamour and noise of trucks and transport, markets and the final terror of the abattoir.
Recently we exposed the horrific mutilations that are routine for British piglets. Lambs have their own, different, mutilations to bear. Most have parts of their tails amputated with a knife, hot-docking iron or, most commonly, a rubber ring which slowly causes the end part of the tail to die. Many are also castrated.
Most often no anaesthetics are used in the bizarre belief that babies don’t feel pain to the same extent as adults.
Of course these assaults hurt, of course they’re stressful, so much so that they can bring about such profound changes in lambs that some will be rejected by their mothers. What kind of industry is it that relies on abusing baby animals?
Sore in more detail
A close-up photo of the wounded sheep
One of the major problems for adult sheep is lameness, with somethree million in pain at any one time.
Foot rot is endemic in low-land herds and is spread by constant sheep movements around the UK and poor biosecurity.Infection can be so profound that a sheep’s hooves may become detached from sensitive connective tissues.
We must act now
We can’t stand by and do nothing so we have decided to go into action. We intend to shatter this false image of rural idyll by having at 100,000 new leaflets printed.
We know that the suffering a killing of lambs has caused innumerable people to go veggie and by publicising these babies’ suffering we intend to increase this number greatly – and Spring is the time to concentrate people’s minds on the cruel fate of lambs.
Please donate what you can
We hate to be asking again for help but for us to remain effective for the animals, we have no choice as we receive no outside funding. We have exciting plans for our Lambing Lies campaign, but it all costs money.
Whatever you can afford will help us print materials, pay for further undercover investigating, reach people who can make a difference through the web and the media. Together we can save lives and make this a Spring to remember.
Yours for the animals
Founder & Director
Urgent: We need donations to help us continue fighting for the animals.