The dairy industry: Where cruelty is standard practice

From a young age, I loved animals. That’s why I became a vegetarian, and for so long, I thought I was doing all I could to help animals. It didn’t occur to me that cows suffered in the dairy industry. I was wrong. Dairy cows suffer horrendously. And they desperately need our help.

My name is Erin, and as an undercover investigator for Animal Outlook, I have seen firsthand how terribly dairy cows suffer. Before I went undercover at an industrial dairy farm, I did all I could to prepare myself. I watched footage from previous investigations and spoke with a former investigator. I went vegan when it became clear that cows on dairy farms lead a tragic existence. Nothing could prepare me for the shocking reality I faced when I wore a hidden camera, working behind the closed doors of the dairy industry.

Earlier this month, we released my latest — and last — heart-wrenching hidden camera video, filmed inside Dick Van Dam dairy in California. This experience confirmed what I had already come to realize: cruelty is standard practice in the dairy industry. I saw abuse and neglect every single day I was there, including some of the most egregious cruelties I’ve seen in my career, from newborn calves left to languish and die to workers lifting sick or injured “downed” cows with a tractor and dragging them with a metal “hip clamp.”

See for yourself by watching our investigation video at

This was not my first time shining a bright light on the hidden horrors of the dairy industry. In 2018, I witnessed similar gut-wrenching abuses at Martin Farms, another dairy factory farm where I previously worked undercover. At both Martin Farms and Dick Van Dam Dairy, I pulled back the curtains on unimaginable abuse and cruelty to mother cows and their calves.

Before these first-hand experiences, I had no idea that calves were mutilated with hot irons pressed into their skulls to remove their horns, with no anesthesia or pain killers. The smell of their burning flesh making me cough and burning my eyes is something I will never forget.

I didn’t know that cows are milked twice a day, and that they are continuously impregnated to produce milk until they collapse, then are sent to slaughter for cheap hamburger meat. I was unaware that for humans to consume milk, mother cows’ babies are ripped from their sides shortly after birth, or that workers attach metal devices to these cows to drag them with tractors through dirt and feces.

Cows at Martin Farms and Dick Van Dam are not alone. Millions others like them suffer in silence every day. We must lend them our voices.

One of the hardest things I witnessed during my time as an investigator was the treatment of the newborn calves. Within days of birth, they are cruelly separated from their mothers. Males in particular are unwanted, often treated like trash, many left to languish and die, cold and alone. Neglected, many are simply too weak to survive even one day, their limp bodies starting to decompose in the same pen as their mothers.

Near the end of my time at Dick Van Dam Dairy, I asked the owner if I could have two calves. My heart nearly exploded when he agreed. Because so many calves there die soon after birth, it took a while before there were two calves healthy enough to be rescued. I was so happy they would have a second chance at life at a sanctuary, but on the other hand, I was devastated knowing there were millions more I could not save.

We took these two rescued calves to their new home at Animal Place, an animal sanctuary in California. They were named Hank and Samuel. Sadly, Hank was too sick and did not survive, but Samuel did, and he is now living out his life in a beautiful place under the sanctuary’s care, with others like him, and will teach people what it’s like when a calf is simply allowed to be a calf.

My time as an investigator pushed me to the brink and I decided I could no longer endure witnessing these atrocities. I’m not turning my back on animals though, and I’m now the Deputy Director of Investigations for Animal Outlook, providing support to our brave investigators in the field, ensuring that we continue to expose the systemic abuse that Big Ag so desperately tries to hide.

This year, Animal Outlook celebrates 25 years of changing the world for animals. With you by our side, we’ll continue exposing the truth through investigations, delivering justice through legal advocacy, revolutionizing food systems through pro-vegan corporate engagement, and empowering change through outreach and education. By standing united, imagine what we can achieve together in the next 25 years.

In honor of our 25th anniversary, five generous donors have pledged $125,000 for a matching challenge, meaning your donation today will go twice as far for farmed animals.

Thank you in advance for your continued support and kindness. The victims of the animal agriculture industry, like Samuel and Hank, need us to fight for them. We can’t let them down.

In solidarity,

Erin Wing

Deputy Director of Investigations

(pictured here with Samuel)

P.S. By making a donation today, your support will have twice the impact in fighting for animals like Hank and Samuel. To make a donation now, visit

P.P.S. After reviewing the investigation, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Dick Van Dam Dairy and the individuals caught on camera for violating state and local animal cruelty laws.

Animal Outlook (formerly Compassion Over Killing) is a national animal protection nonprofit based in Washington, DC.