Desperate farmers dump calves in telephone boxes

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The Independent Online
IN A graphic and macabre illustration of the dire state of the Welsh beef industry, new-born baby calves are starting to be dumped in public places.

Two-week-old male calves found in telephone boxes near Cardigan, in West Wales, are presumed to have been left by cash-strapped farmers. Both had signs tied around their necks saying: "Help me."

Although straw had been placed on the ground, one of the animals was dehydrated when it was found. Another young calf was discovered tied to a pole in the nearby village of Plwmp.

The incidents, which evoke unsettling echoes of teenage mothers abandoning new-born babies on doorsteps, brought an angry reaction from the RSPCA.

Superintendent Kevin Manning, of RSPCA Wales, condemned the actions as "stupid", and "ridiculous". "Whoever has done this is completely reckless," he said. "The majority of right-thinking farmers would condemn this action.

"However dire the financial situation is in the industry, this is not an answer. It is a criminal offence and whoever has done this has upset and depressed a lot of people."

Mr Manning said that the calves, now in the care of the RSPCA, would probably have to be put down. "Because they were not tagged, we cannot identify whether or not they have come from a BSE-free stock," he said.

The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) said that the agriculture industry was in such a crisis that it was not surprised the calves had been dumped.

Until recently, male calves had been worth up to pounds 40 each, it said. But since the ending of a government financial aid scheme in July, after the European Union's lifting of the ban on beef exports, they have been almost worthless.

"The commission for the auctioneer is now worth more than the actual calf," said Gwilym Thomas, an FUW spokesman. "We do not condone this sort of action, but we understand it.

"Farmers are in a desperate situation and some feel desperate measures are needed to draw attention to the situation," he said.

Union representatives are due to meet Christine Gwyther, the Agriculture Secretary in the Welsh Assembly, on Wednesday to discuss the state of the industry.

"We hope the Government will take some notice of the crisis in farming and take emergency action to reduce the problem," Mr Thomas said.

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