Search icon

Dairy farming investigations

Europe - 2019

This investigation exposed the grim reality for millions of dairy calves across the EU. Separated from their mothers shortly after birth and confined in small, individual pens, these dairy calves are deprived of their natural behaviours and social interaction.

Please note: this film contains scenes that you may find distressing

Confined, deprived and insolated

The investigation film - which contains footage obtained from five Polish dairy farms as well as footage from other EU countries (the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic and Denmark) - exposed further welfare concerns; hungry calves repeatedly attempting to suckle an investigator’s hand; as well as evidence of poor hygiene and inadequate protection from cold temperatures. Additionally, there were incidents of EU law infringement: with calves completely unable to see and touch each other; and calves around three to four months old being kept illegally in pens that were too small for them.

This investigation reveals the cruel reality for millions of dairy calves in Poland, and across the EU. These calves are separated from their mothers hours after birth, and spend their first eight weeks in isolation, away from the comfort and support that close companionship can provide to social animals like them. This is a completely barbaric and unnecessary practice.

Malgorzata Szadkowska, Head of our Polish office

Italy - 2017

Our investigation into the dairy farms which supply the milk for Parmesan and Grana Padano cheeses, revealed that many dairy cows in Italy are living in shocking conditions.

These famous cheeses are marketed around the world as ‘high quality’. But what we found was far from the portrayed image. Parmesan and Grana Padano are, quite simply, the product of another intensive farming system.

The farms investigated are located in the Po Valley area, Italy’s agricultural heartland. A lush region with vast areas of fields. But, in defiance of logic, there are virtually no cows grazing outdoors – where a ruminant animal should naturally be. We witnessed cows trapped in filthy barns, forced to walk around in their own waste. As they are never allowed out to pasture, these animals endure such squalid conditions for their entire lives.

Our former investigators witnessed animals suffering from painful sores, lameness, exhaustion and some even looked emaciated. Indeed, many cows farmed for Grana Padano have been selectively bred for such high yields that they struggle to maintain a healthy body weight.

As a result of this investigation and the actions taken by Compassion supporters, we’re delighted to report that representatives of the Grana Padano consortium have met with us to discuss improving their animal welfare standards.

Europe - 2012

In yet another example of fitting an animal into a system, rather than the system around the animal's needs, workers cut the tails off – often just to stop the tail hitting them when they milked the cow.


In the summer of 2012, Compassion in World Farming initiated a series of undercover investigations into dairy farming within the European Union. Investigators visited over 50 farms in Germany, Denmark and Spain. What they found was shocking.

Far from being a wholesome sector, as many would believe, the footage we uncovered shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

Investigation into the farming of dairy cows in Europe

When cows should have been grazing in fields, our investigation found the animals were often kept in cramped and squalid conditions. Many cows were tethered inside all year round never feeling the sun on their backs. Many more were suffering from painful lameness, sores and wounds on their legs, overgrown hooves and docked tails.

Cows are tethered with a chain around their neck. Apart from standing up or lying down, they cannot move.

In many of the farms visited cows were kept indoors throughout the year and were never allowed out to graze on pasture. Often they are kept in barren, overcrowded, unhygienic conditions with no straw or other bedding.

In Germany many cows were tethered by chains, sometimes 24 hours a day all year round. All they can do is stand up, lie down and move a few steps backwards, forwards or sideways.

Apart from her milk yield, nothing else seems to matter

Whilst the footage we obtained comes from three countries, the conditions in which cows live is unlikely to be limited to just those countries.

The issue of dairy cow welfare is an extremely serious one, both in terms of the numbers involved and the length of time that they suffer for.

Overgrown hooves

Overgrown hooves

Many cows were in bad condition. They were underweight, and had some had severe foot problems.

Milk production

Milk production

Bred to produce vast quantities of milk, this dairy cow’s genetics favour milk production over maintaining body condition.

Shackled pregnant cow

Shackled pregnant cow

Tethered to the spot, the only grass these cows see is that which is brought in to them from outdoors.

Tethered tail

Tethered tail

Immobilised by a tether attached to her tail, she cannot swat away the flies that gather in these filthy conditions.

Huge udders and shackles

Huge udders and shackles

For their own good? Extreme breeding results in such huge udders that cows are shackled to keep their legs in place.

Barren stalls in Denmark

Barren stalls in Denmark

In barren barns, cows ‘beds’ are sometimes so poor they cannot even fit on them properly.

Overcrowded sheds

Overcrowded sheds

Sheds can be overcrowded resulting in more timid cows being forced to rest in the slatted corridors.

With thanks to the Marchig Animal Welfare Trust for funding towards dairy investigations.