Rabbits ‘suffering shocking health problems’ at fur and meat company bidding to expand

Exclusive: Police observed workers handing two sick animals to activists at farm whose owner sells fur products for up to £600

Jane Dalton
Thursday 30 September 2021 23:29
Encaged rabbits kept 'in shocking conditions', says Rabbit Farm Resistance UK

A rabbit fur and meat farm that wants to expand has left animals sick from neglect, activists claim.

T&S Rabbits, which breeds dozens of animals at its four sites in the UK, has applied for permission to extend in several places, including building slaughterhouse facilities.

Members of a group opposing rabbit farming claim they saw animals at one farm, in Nottinghamshire, suffering health problems including ear mites and head tilt, which is usually caused by problems in the ear or brain.

Activists say photographs they took show a lack of hay or grass in the cages and white rabbits that were yellow from urine.

The team said they also found a burnt rabbit on the remains of a bonfire.

“We were very lucky to also have two sick rabbits legally surrendered to us by workers,” Ayrton Cooper, of Rabbit Farm Resistance UK, told The Independent.

“This was all in the presence of police. These two rabbits are being treated by specialist exotics vets; one has a severe head tilt and stayed at the vet’s all week receiving critical care.”

The vets’ bills for the rescues had come to about £1,800 so far, he said.

T&S Rabbits, which also has sites in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, sells products made from rabbit fur, including cushions, handbags and hats, for up to £275, and body warmers £600 or more.

It also sells rabbit carcases to the restaurant trade.

It said the claims were “exaggerated and skewed”, and the activists had been invited on to the farm.

Although fur farming has been banned in the UK since 2003, fur may legally be sold as a by-product of the meat industry.

Earlier this year Ricky Gervais spoke out against T&S’s expansion plans.

The company, which says its rabbits are “free-range”, wanted to expand its site at Atlow in Derbyshire, to include a skinning area, but the application was rejected. The council concluded the proposed new building would be an “unwarranted and inherently unsustainable form of development in the open countryside”, the Derby Telegraph reported.

A breeding rabbit in a hutch

Attempts by the company to expand in Cornwall and Buckinghamshire were also refused on planning and development grounds.

But an application to expand the Nottinghamshire site, where Rabbit Farm Resistance filmed what it described as “shocking” scenes, is also still being considered, as is an application to set up a farm in Leicestershire, rearing and slaughtering up to 10,000 animals a year, which has attracted thousands of objections.

An inspection in Nottinghamshire by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), seen by The Independent, found “non-compliance” with animal-welfare laws but said the animals were in good condition.

Mr Cooper said: “The shelter was pathetic – just a wooden board.

“The rabbits are supposed to be white but most were yellow from urine stains.

“When they have head tilt, they can’t groom themselves. A lot twitched their heads from ear mites.

“They had no access to grass and very little hay. It was much worse than I’d imagined.”

The RSPCA referred the activists’ complaints to the APHA.

T&S owner Phil Kerry dismissed the claims, insisting nearly all 280 rabbits at the Nottinghamshire site were healthy, well fed and alert, “as evident on the video”.

But he admitted three were not well, saying the ear mites were being treated, and the rabbit with the head tilt was under observation as it was not in distress.

“My staff decided to give it a while,” he told The Independent. “It’s interesting how it was featured more than once on the videos, suggesting the activists were struggling for footage.”

“I agree that some of the bucks had been sprayed with urine from other bucks. I raised this with the investigating Defra vet, who said that this was perfectly normal and happens in the wild. You wouldn’t see this on a wild brown rabbit,” Mr Kerry added.

And he said what looked like faeces appeared to be feed pellets partly broken down by rain.

Meanwhile, a new report has shown how European wild rabbits are a “keystone species” that hold together ecosystems by grazing and digging, which keeps the ground just right for sustaining other species.

But the researchers at the University of East Anglia said wild rabbits were declining regionally, nationally and globally, even being classed as endangered in their native Iberian Peninsula.

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