Shearers picked up lambs and slammed them into the ground, while others stomped on sheep’s heads and necks, a court has heard.
The four Wimmera shearers faced Horsham Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Natimuk’s Bradley James Arnold, Horsham’s Jake Lachlan Williams, Hamilton’s Lindsay David Gillin and Keith’s Graham Ivan Batson, all pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges.
The charges followed a campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals where activists gained work as rouseabouts in 2013 and fitted themselves with cameras to film shearers at work.
They posted footage to YouTube of what they described as sheep being mistreated.
In July 2014, Agriculture Victoria launched a full scale and detailed investigation.
Video that was shot in the Wimmera shearing sheds was shown in court.
Arnold, 39, pleaded guilty to 26 charges.
Agriculture Victoria senior prosecutor Michael Woods said Arnold worked at a shearing shed at Nurrabiel in October, 2013.
The court heard that, on several occasions, Arnold struck sheep on the nose, head or face with his handpiece or fists, causing the animal to bleed.
Arnold stomped on a sheep’s neck and dragged it along the floor, where he slammed its head into the floor with sufficient force.
Mr Woods said on another two occasions, Arnold grasp a sheep’s head and put his thumb into its eye socket.
He said Arnold also knelt on a sheep with his full weight during shearing and when he finished, he dragged the sheep through its own urine.
Mr Woods said on October 16, Arnold kneeled on a lamb’s neck, causing it to become limp and unresponsive.
The court heard that on October 17, Arnold picked up a lamb, held it about three to four metres in the air and then slammed it down onto the floor.
Mr Marshall, who also represented Williams, argued that cruelty in the shearing industry was something that used to happen, but did not happen anymore.
“There has been enormous changes across the whole industry,” he said.
“Many people are keen to have Arnold back as a shearer.”
The lawyer argued Arnold’s behaviour had changed since the time of offending and he now taught other young shearers how to shear correctly.
Williams, 23, pleaded guilty to 22 charges, relating to his worked at a Nurrabiel shearing shed in October 2013.
The court heard that Williams struck sheep to the face with his handpiece and fists.
Mr Woods said that on October 4, Williams stomped on the back limbs of a sheep, as well as its head and neck.
On another occasion, Williams picked up sheep and slammed them onto the ground.
He also stomped on a sheep’s hind limbs after he had finished shearing.
Mr Woods said while shearing, Williams twists sheep’s limbs up and backwards, causing the sheep unreasonable pain and suffering.
He said on another occasion, Williams struck a sheep 10 times in the head and then stuck his blades into its side.
On October 10, Williams picked up a lamb by its limbs and threw it three or four feet away.
Defence barrister Alan Marshall said Williams was no longer involved in the industry as a direct result of these matters.
Batson, 49, pleaded guilty to six charges, relating to incidents from November and December 2013 at Poolaijelo.
Mr Woods said Batson struck sheep in the head with his handpiece.
He said on several occasions Batson picked up lambs by the legs or neck before slamming them on the ground.
Batson stomped on the neck of a sheep after shearing.
On December 11, Batson picked up a lamb by its neck, stared into its eyes and shook the animal.
Defence barrister Erin Hill argued Batson lost his cool and knew his behaviour wasn’t good enough.
She said the sheep were full and were wriggling about and Batson made a wrong, stupid choice.
“He is ashamed of what he has done,” she said.
Gillin, 61, pleaded guilty to six charges, relating to incidents from February 2014 at Moyston.
The court heard that on a number of occasions, Gillin struck sheep with his handpiece.
Gillin’s lawyer argued that his offending was at the lower end of the scale.
“He is now trying to do his bit to educate other men in the industry,” she said.
Mr Woods said while shearing was a difficult and demanding task, shearers had a duty of care that they failed to exercise.
“The offences are of a serious nature and there needs to be a clear message of deterrence that cruelty is not to be tolerated,” he said.
Mr Woods said all the shearers actions were not accidental or the result of negligence.
Magistrate Mark Stratmann said shearing was an old industry.
“I accept the environment is busy, hectic, hot and the animals are unpredictable, but what is unacceptable is the way these animals were treated,” he said.
The men will be sentenced on March 31.