A TEENAGE farmhand faces the sack after shocking undercover video footage showed him attacking cows and their calves on one of the area's top dairy farms.

The 18-year-old apprentice stockman can be seen.

*violently punching tiny calves and kicking cows in the face.

*repeatedly kicking young calves to make them stand up.

*aggressively twisting cows’ tails and repeatedly slamming metal gates into them.

*pinning calves to the floor and shouting obscenities in their face.

*repeatedly kicking and slapping nursing cows.

*violently throwing small calves to the floor.

The owner of Pyrland Farm, Taunton, where the incident took place before Christmas, has condemned the violence as "unacceptable and totally unnecessary".

A worker with animal protection group Animal Equality secretly placed a camera in a cowshed following a tip-off from someone who lives nearby and the abuse has been reported to the RSPCA.

Dr Toni Shephard, Animal Equality's UK director, said: "The miracle of motherhood is routinely exploited by the dairy industry, causing enormous suffering to cows and calves.

"But to discover farm workers beating new mother cows and tiny calves takes this systematic abuse to an unprecedented level.

“We demand these violent workers be brought to justice and urge consumers to choose plant-based milks, cheeses and yoghurts, which are healthier than dairy products and cruelty-free.”

Animal Equality investigators also criticised the use of shackles of mother cows, although the devices are commonly used to prevent the animals doing the splits.

The group also witnessed one "lame" cow in "extreme discomfort and struggling to walk", while two dead calves were spotted on the ground in full view of several nursing and pregnant cows.

James Read, who now runs the 250-cow farm established by his parents in 1949, criticised Animal Equality for leaking details of the video before the RSPCA had interviewed the rogue stockman, who has worked for him since August.

"The timing isn't helpful," said Mr Read.

"We're absolutely horrified by what he did and of course we don't condone it.

"The incident was recorded on December 8, but we only found out about it last Thursday and since then we've made sure there's always been someone with him.

Somerset County Gazette:

James Read - "horrified" by his apprentice stockman's violence.

"I've spoken to all our staff and none of them has seen any sign of animal cruelty by him. He's a keen lad and I just can't understand his behaviour on the film. It's out of character.

"He will be dealt with by the RSPCA and myself. I'm going to have to sack him.

"This is one person whose behaviour has been unacceptable and totally unnecessary."

His wife, Mary, said: "We're gutted, devastated."

Pyrland Farm featured in the County Gazette in 2010, when Mr Read installed a robotic milking system allowing cows to choose when they want to be milked rather than having to be rounded up at specific times of the day.

Today he said: "We're very proud of out system of caring for animals. We've got very high welfare standards. We're one of the top dairy farms around here as far as welfare goes.

"And Simon Wheatley, who's been here for 24 years, is the South West herdsman of the year."

Somerset County Gazette:

James Read, who plans to sack the culprit.

The farm, which received a clean bill of health following a Defra inspection in October, is visited by a vet fortnightly and a foot trimmer calls in regularly.

Referring to the "lame" cow, Mr Read said it had already been seen by a vet and has made a good recovery and is walking "nearly perfectly" now.

He admitted two calves had been left uncovered in the open, but said it was an oversight as it was dark and workers had not noticed them.

Pyrland Farm supplies Muller Milk and Ingredients - formerly Muller Wiseman - one of the main processors used by Tesco, Sainsbury's, M&S and the Co-op for their own brand milks.

An RSPCA spokesman said: "We are concerned about the content of the footage sent to us, and are currently investigating.”