BOCA RATON (FOX 13) - The Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office is now conducting an investigation into alleged abuse of dairy cows after an animal rights organization released undercover video it says was taken inside the stalls.
The Animal Recovery Mission (ARM) released the video along with a letter detailing alleged findings of its undercover investigation – including cows being beaten in their torsos and heads – in an effort to increase milk production.
Sheriff Noel Stephen held a press conference Thursday after the video’s release. Stephen said he has spoken with two of the farm’s owners, Woody and Jacob Larson of Larson Dairy Farm, and they are cooperating with the investigation.
ARM says its investigation began in August when an undercover investigator got a job at the farm, which provides milk to Publix through a distributor, and works closely with University of Florida’s dairy science researchers.
The video released by ARM, titled “Operation Larson Dairy Farm – Okeechobee, FL-USA,” opens with a shot of the entrance of the Larson Dairy Farm. It goes on to show men hitting cows on their faces and heads with cloth rags.
Men also hit cows' legs and faces with hooked metal rods, described by a narriator as construction rebar. Many of the cows being hit appear to be confined in stalls where they cannot escape.
At one point, two men pair up against a cow with one hitting the cow on the head with a fabric rag while the other stabs the cow with a metal rod.
In another scene, a cow kicks back at a man trying to place milking devices on a cow's utters. The man responds by punching the cow in its utters.
The narrator says many of the cows are "new mothers" and their utters are sensitive, making the strikes very painful for the animals.
"Supervisors under the rule of dairy owner Jacob Larson would regularly demand the armed, undercover operative brutalize the cows," the narrator says. "Working in teams, the dairy workers beat the cows into submission."
Sheriff Stephen said he has known the Larson family for years and said he believes the owners would not tolerate the behavior seen in ARM’s video. Stephen said he had spoken with Woody and Jacob Larson about the incidents.
Sheriff Stephen admitted he had not seen the video but had seen a still picture of who he said were the three men who carried out the alleged abuses.
"These gentlemen would not condone this activity had they known about it. They'd have fired them on the spot," the sheriff said.
The sheriff said the Larsons told him one person had been fired and two others suspended, pending an internal investigation, in connection with the undercover video.
Watch the full video from ARM. Warning, video contains graphic content.
ARM says it is “in active contact with State and Federal authorities, requesting immediate action to hold those documented during the investigation accountable for their crimes.”
ARM says it believes charges should be brought against owner and farm location boss Jacob Larson with a third-degree felony for “failing to act upon his employees.” ARM said it will also ask for charges some the dairy farm workers and their supervisors.
Additionally, the sheriff said there will be a criminal investigation and criminal charges, if necessary. He said the person who shot the video will likely not face any charges.
The sheriff said he has never heard any complaints about the farm until now.
The men in the video have not been publicly identified.
Meanwhile, milk production at Larson Dairy Farm continues, according to the sheriff.