Animal Aid


In the first section of our Bartered Lives report, we take a look at the physical fabric of markets, fear and stress, water, loading and unloading, and rough handling and violence.


Animal Aid salutes the courage of and dedication of MarketWatchers, whose sole aim is to alleviate the torment of the 22 million animals passing through the British market system every year. They receive no payment and often face derision and hostility from market users. This report is the product of their work.

A ram suffering from pasteurellosis pneumonia, diagnosed by a Marketwatcher, was 'gasping for breath, blowing from the throat, with froth coming from the mouth'. The local vet refused to come out and it took the MAFF vet four and a half hours to drive more than 100 miles before the ram could be humanely destroyed. (Rye, July 7, 1999)

A few weeks later, at the same market, a ewe was found by a MarketWatcher to be suffering from gangrene mastitis. The farmer abandoned the animal. The trading standards and RSPCA officers were called from the cafe. They made an examination but showed no further interest. The local vet refused to attend. Two and a half hours later, after being loaded, unloaded and then loaded again into the back of a Landrover, the ewe was driven a couple of miles down the road to a farm and shot. (Rye, August 4, 1999)

'A semi-lame bullock, after standing for over five hours, his back arched in pain, on the concrete of his pen, hobbled towards the ramp to be loaded, but flinched with pain as he tried to place his feet on the metal ramp. Impatient to load, an electric goad was used seven times on the side of his neck. He never kicked once, not even while they used the goad. He was not aggressive. Once forced on board, he waited 17 minutes while the driver chatted before departing, all urgency forgotten.' (Colchester, May 2, 2000)

The physical fabric of markets

The majority of market premises are old and dilapidated, with no evidence of meaningful spending on maintenance. The government's 1998 markets Strategy requires new establishments to be designed 'with the aim of moving animals through them in a stress-free manner'.

Yet even new markets can present serious problems. Worcester opened its new premises in February 1999 and since then, at least two steers have broken their legs in pen gates, and were destroyed. The senior animal Health Inspector for Worcester County Council told Animal Aid: 'When there are a lot [of animals] gathered together in a market, it's an acceptable, unfortunate incident.'

In Ashford's new market, the concrete floors have rough surfaces, causing discomfort, particularly to sheep with sore feet. No doors have ever been fitted in the calf lairage (1) /sale area, despite this having been promised when the market opened two winters ago. The seating area for market users is heated, but young calves are exposed to chill winds. The pens have been built low, with solid, shiny walls. Calves find the reflections disturbing and tend to jump out.

'Calves frequently hang suspended on the sides of the pens and auction ring, much to the amusement of those present,' reports a local MarketWatcher. The market's 'remedy' is to crowd more animals into the pen in order to restrict their movement.

Whether a market is new or ancient, Animal Aid receives regular reports of animals trapping their legs or heads in gates and other barriers. This results typically from slipping on dirty floors or during attempts to escape. Young animals, not yet accustomed to walking, often have difficulty in simply traversing the hard market floor.

'Many calves found the wet concrete in the auction ring (no straw) very slippery. Several spreadeagled and were pulled to their feet using their tail and the baler twine around their neck. Loose calves in the central corridor between the pens were slipping on the wet concrete as they ran about at liberty, not knowing where to go.' (Chippenham, October 22, 1999)

Bad design also results in animals being exposed to the elements.

'The site is completely in the open, no shelter from bad weather, no shade from the hot sun. The pens are tied up with string. Slippery surfaces, bad drainage, this market is very old and not really up to standard, although MAFF have approved it. Animals slip frequently on wet and icy surfaces.' (Rye)

'If the sheep are shorn, their skin often becomes burnt when they are trapped in pens under the sun.' (Guildford)

Fear and stress

Many animals will have had little human contact prior to market day. For all of them, the market is a stressful, noisy and confusing place. They will be surrounded by unknown animals and coerced, sometimes with violence, through an unfamiliar maze of metal pens and stone floors by drovers who have typically received no formal training and show signs of lacking a basic understanding of the welfare needs of the animals in their charge.

Stressed animals may well be thirsty, but water is rarely offered. Forced into pens which - for sheep especially - may be punishingly overcrowded, they can wait for hours with little or no protection from extreme weather conditions. The animals' distress is heightened by the speed of handling, the clanging of metal gates, the relentless shouting and wielding of sticks and plastic piping by handlers.

Confining an animal in a metal crush can be especially traumatising. A crush is a small metal compartment that usually forms a section of the narrow walkway along which cattle are driven en route to the auction ring. They will be held in a crush when the way ahead is congested, or to receive a veterinary examination. Cattle might be forced into the crush by an electric goad or barred from it by the slamming of the gate on their head and shoulders.

'The stress proved too much for one cull cow, probably only about four years old. She was clearly traumatised, eyes rolling with terror and foaming at the mouth. There is no allowance for fear in markets. Animals, as any drover will tell you, "don't feel fear". In the raceway she suddenly panicked, trying to get away. It was too much for her, she fell on her knees, had a massive heart attack and died. Her body was dragged into an empty pen, which stood between other pens crammed with condemned cows, forced to view her for an hour before the knackerman came. In full sight of the living, this dead heifer was hauled up the tailboard and thrown on top of dead horses already in the lorry. As the gates closed on the corpses, several waiting cows and an elderly bull began a deep and protracted lowing'. (Colchester, February 17, 2000)


When properly provided for, dairy cows drink up to 115 litres of water a day and ewes nine litres (2). Pigs are also voracious drinkers, given the chance. It is rare for any animal to be given water at market.

The Welfare of Animals at Markets Order (1990) states: 'It shall be the duty of the person in charge of an animal to ensure that the animal is provided with an adequate quantity of wholesome water as often as is necessary to prevent it suffering from thirst.' The Code of Practice that accompanies the 1990 Order provides non-statutory guidance as to what the government regards as good welfare practices. This code is specific about providing water for animals kept overnight, but there is nothing concrete about provision during the day - i.e. during trading hours.

And while the government's 1998 'Strategy for the Protection of Animal Welfare at Livestock Markets' refers to the disruption of feeding and drinking patterns encountered by animals taken to market, it too contains nothing specific regarding access to food and water. Many animals will have begun their journey to the sales very early in the morning, probably not having been watered beforehand. They will be taken from market on to a slaughterhouse - perhaps several hours away - without any further access to water. Eighteen or more hours could have elapsed.

Vet David Coffey of the Centre for Animal Welfare Studies at Esher states that, with hundreds of animals going through each livestock market, it is impossible to pick out those suffering from thirst. Therefore water should be accessible to all. In practice, purchasers are unwilling to pay for the additional weight gained by an animal who has been allowed to drink. The 'cost' and effort of providing water are also cited as reasons for depriving animals.

'On no occasion have I seen animals offered water, not even in very hot weather conditions.' (Northampton)

'Wall mounted drinking troughs empty and too high for calves to reach. Four calves in small transport box and left in sun. No water.' (Hailsham, May 11, 1999)

Loading and unloading

The process of loading and unloading is known to cause animals more distress than any other aspect of transportation. Pigs can die of fright. The 1998 government Strategy identifies the following unacceptable practices: kicking, punching, dragging, tail twisting, wheelbarrowing - and the use of sharp sticks, plastic pipes, and electric goad except in limited circumstances. The Strategy document further acknowledges that animals 'may be moved onto and off vehicles and around markets by people whose main concern is to get the job done quickly; this pressure of time may lead to animals slipping or being unreasonably hurried to go in a particular direction.'

Two recent incidents from Hailsham, East Sussex indicate the kind of loading-related stresses to which animals are subjected. In the first, a haulier gathered animals from various market pens, mixing horned and de-horned cattle who had originated at different farms. He used a stick to load them all into one compartment of a transporter. Mixing animals not known to each other - some with horns - can result in stress-related aggression and serious injury. When a MarketWatcher pointed out the infringement, 'he quickly slammed the tailgate and drove away from the market before any officials could be alerted'. The following week, the same driver attempted the same procedure. The MarketWatcher summoned the trading standards officer (TSO), who made the driver re-load the animals into separate compartments.

On another occasion, a haulier tried to drive 'a very large mature sow plus seven or eight juvenile pigs up a lorry ramp using a metal five-bar gate. No straw or sawdust was laid on the ramp, resulting in chaos and stress to the animals.' Aided by two market workers, the young pigs were finally loaded 'by throwing them into the lorry, grabbing any part of their bodies. The sow, having witnessed this aggression, appeared more determined than ever not to be moved. She resisted with her full strength while prone on the floor. Drovers lost control, stamping on her feet, kicking her and beating her with a stick until she finally gave in after such a barrage of abuse. I was forced to observe this, unable to raise any welfare personnel, who later informed me that they had been in the market cafe exchanging stories with an old police colleague.' (Hailsham, July 6, 1999)

Rough handling and violence

The 1998 government Strategy is supposed to ensure that animals are treated 'in a humane and caring way'. But there is still no specific training requirement for those handling animals at markets, and the Strategy states that competence may be achieved through 'practical experience' - experience gained in whatever atmosphere a particular market has tolerated. Bad habits are easily passed on to new employees, and even to the children of market workers, who commonly 'help out' at the sales.

The bullying nature of many market users is revealed in the anxiety-induced violence they often inflict on larger, more powerful animals. But this treatment typically fails to hasten an animal's movements. Rather, it engenders additional stress and confusion, resulting in delay. Undercover MarketWatch film shot at Derby reveals a particularly disturbing level of overt and repeated violence by some drovers against confused cattle. Their use of sticks signals incompetence as well as callousness.

'I have too frequently seen the larger animals being struck on the face with a stick in front of TSO and RSPCA who ignored it, even after my complaint. This adds to the animals' confusion and disorientation.' (Hailsham)

'Sows and boars are often handled too roughly, because they are big and slow. Drovers and drivers are afraid of their size, which causes them to handle the animals with increased aggression. Overuse of the stick continues to be a problem, especially with cattle being struck across the face. The use of slapboards (held on either side of a pig to gently guide it) are meant to be mandatory, but most drovers resort to using their feet on reluctant pigs.' (Colchester)

'A bullock kicked out and bellowed with pain where the drover used excessive force with the electric goad.' (Ashford, January 11, 2000)

'Observed two market handlers using excessive force with a large stick, beating the living daylights out of the cattle and poking and prodding at them - far worse than I have ever seen. We started using the previously hidden camcorder and were asked to leave, with a threat to break the camcorder.' (Northampton, November 13, 1999)


  1. Lairage is the term used for any place where an animal is kept, supposedly at rest, during a break in his or her journey.
  2. Farmers Weekly, August 25, 1995.

In Part 2 of our Bartered Lives report, we look at sick and injured animals, cull animals, small animals, horses, enforcement and veterinary cover, and alternatives.

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