The foot and mouth crisis is no excuse for the inhumane treatment of animals, stressed the RSPCA this week as it investigated reports that ill-equipped MAFF slaughterman bungled a cull at Barras Farm near Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria.

The owner of the farm, Alan Alderson argued that the cull of his herd of 25 cows, one bull, 25 calves and one pregnant cow was mismanaged. They were slaughtered as a precaution after a MAFF lorry passed through a road in their field while carrying infected carcasses from a Stricegill farm.

Anderson said that rather than pen the animals in, the men killed the cows then spent three hours chasing their distressed calves around the field in a four-wheel drive vehicle, while taking pot-shots at them with a shot gun through the window. 

A spokesman for MAFF commented that the cull had indeed been "far from ideal [but] these were semi-wild animals on the farm, and the vet and the marksmen knew it was going to be a difficult job when they turned up. All but two were shot and killed instantaneously, and these two were killed by the second shot." He added that a complaint had been lodged.

Neighbours who witnessed the cull spoke of their distress to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. Jean Hutchinson commented: "They shot all the mothers and the calves were just rushing up and down. They are not wild animals and they should never be treated like that."

Ann Alderson said: "We saw a four-wheel drive vehicle racing around the field and a cow being chased, and my husband Johnnie saw two cows actually being shot from the vehicle. Those poor calves were just terrified.

"This is typical of the way MAFF is working now. We got the impression that they were getting a bit of a kick out of it."