NHILL poultry producers have told a parliamentary inquiry that animal activists trespassing on their farms had caused ongoing trauma and stress to their staff.
Luv-A-Duck chief executive Daryl Bussell and contractor John Millington spoke about their experiences with animal activists at a hearing in Horsham on Wednesday.
The public hearing was for a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism on the agriculture industry.
Both farmers were targeted by animal activists last year.
Mr Millington was unaware that activists had broken into his property until he saw video footage of his farm online.
Mr Millington is a third generation poultry farmer, who grows ducks for Luv-A-Duck. He has been involved in the company since 1983.
His farm has strict quarantine and biosecurity measures in place.
Activists invaded Mr Millington's farm sometime in 2018 and set up cameras.
He first became aware that this had happened when he saw video footage of his farm on YouTube.
Mr Millington spoke of his experience with animal activists at a hearing on Wednesday for the parliamentary inquiry into the impact of animal rights activists on agriculture.
"They had videoed us catching ducks for processing - we don't man-handle each duck, they are herded like sheep," he said.
"The activists had broken in and set up the camera at the back of the shed to film the whole process.
"The people involved were my staff and Luv-A-Duck contractors."
Mr Millington's staff were Karen refugees.
"Their life had been terrible - in some cases, when they lived in Burma, military went into their villages and shot people," he said.
"Imagine the impact that this event had on these men - they kept asking if it was going to happen again and it continues to play on their mind."
Following the incident a state government animal officer came to the farm to investigate.
"We went through the process of what had happened - the only thing that we might have done is pick up the birds and thrown them forward into crates, there was no hitting or kicking or any serious breaches of animal welfare," Mr Millington said.
The farm received no penalties from the state government.
Mr Millington's farm is also on the Aussies Farms map, which details farming operations throughout the country.
"My family are deeply concerned by the activities of the group Aussie Farms, and their unauthorised access to premises housing animals and poultry," he said.
"We are highly offended by our farm being noted on the Aussie Farms website hit list
"We are not criminals, we are law-abiding farmers trying to make a living under already difficult economic and climatic conditions."
Mr Millington said people were entitled to express their concerns, but it should be in a peaceful and respectful way.
"We do not object to the Aussie Farms members' right to express their concerns but we do object to the manner in which they impact on our livelihood and our mental wellbeing," he said.
"Their illegal activities are constantly on our minds and we are ever vigilant for their intrusion and subsequent consequences."
Drone footage of Mr Millington's property has also emerged online.
Nhill's Luv-A-Duck was also targeted by activists last year.
Protesters fill shell pools with water at Luv-a-Duck. Picture taken from a live video on the Aussie Farms public Facebook page.
On November 29 last year, about 55 activists from six states representing Bear Witness Australia and Aussie Farms entered the Luv-A-Duck processing plant at Nhill to protest what they labelled unethical treatment of animals.
They filled clam-shell pools with water and removed ducks from the business to allow them to swim, and also climbed onto a rooftop with banners.
Company chief executive Daryl Bussell said the activists turned up to the site in the early hours in the morning, parked at a remote location and trekked onto Luv-A-Duck's land,.
He said the activists released about 50 to 60 ducks.
"We shut the site down and I instructed staff not to get involved," he said.
Mr Bussell called police, but had to wait about an hour and a half for officers to arrive from Horsham.
"There was a while where we were all just standing around waiting and I tried to find out from the activists what they wanted and what they were trying to achieve, but they wouldn't talk," he said.
After police arrived, the activists huddled together in a small group, before running off in different directions, taking ducks with them.
At the time, Bear Witness and Aussie Farms spokeswoman Lissy Jane said the groups wanted to draw attention to hidden camera footage released earlier in the year from inside the business.
She said they also wanted to highlight "inherent cruelty of an industry in which aquatic animals are farmed without access to surface water".
Mr Bussell said as a result of the incident, the site had to be shut down, which cost the business tens of thousands of dollars.
However, he was more concerned on the toll the event had on his staff.
"The disturbing thing is how this effected the mental state of the staff who witnessed it - they are scared this is going to happen again," he said.
"I'm incredibly proud of the staff at the site that day, they were visibly upset and angry, but none of them took any action and just stood their ground.
"The biggest issue for us has been stress on the individuals - that can't be recovered financially, so this type of offending needs to be prevented from happening again."
Mr Bussell wanted to press charges for trespass and theft, but investigations are still ongoing. "We had police on site watch people leave with ducks and there is still no result," he said.
Mr Bussell called for stronger penalties for repeat offenders.
Earlier this year, an animal activist was charged after she stole three goats and a lamb from a Gippsland farm.
She was fined $2 for removing an ear tag from a stolen goat and for housing livestock without a property identification code.
"If people take the law into their own hands and intimidate other people, there needs to be stronger penalties than $2 fines," Mr Bussell said.
"The ring leaders need to be held accountable for their actions.
"If we put in place trespassing laws and people break them and get $2 fines, that is not going to stop it."
Victorian Farmers Federation also spoke at the hearing, calling for on-the-spot fines and harsher penalties for animal activists trespassing on farms.
Federation livestock group president and Tempy farmer Leonard Vallance said trespassing on farms should be classified as breaking and entering.
"Unfortunately, Australian farmers are fairly relaxed about the entrances to their farm - I have 79 gates that open onto public roads so it would be near impossible to maintain security," he said.
"If a business in town was targeted like farms were, it would be classed as breaking and entering and the fines would be much higher."
Mr Vallance said on the spot fines would go a long way in deterring trespass and theft.
"Often activists are university students with little assets and on-the-spot fines would be a much more effective way to deal with them," he said. "We have on-the-spot fines now for speeding and that is very effective in slowing people down."
Mr Vallance said if a farmer was transporting livestock without appropriate paperwork, the fine could be as much as $10,000, yet activists were often fined very little or let off charges.
He said the state government and the industry had invested a lot of money in livestock identification schemes.
"It makes a mockery of the government, who spent $21 million on sheep identification, when someone is let off for transporting sheep without an ear tag and paperwork - it's ludicrous," he said.
"An outbreak of foot and mouth in England started with one animal - it only takes one."
The inquiry heard that many farming families were afraid they would be targeted by activists.
Mr Vallance said he knew a Mallee family that had to make sure someone was always home at the farm, for security purposes.
"It is now very difficult for them to enjoy the family parts of life - the concept of a family going for a picnic or fishing for the day doesn't happen anymore because someone needs to stay home," he said.
"The days of going up to the shed and leaving the kids in the house aren't viable anymore, so the impact on families is enormous."
Mr Vallance also called for trespass laws to extend to farm vehicles. He said there were instances of activists letting dogs or livestock out of stock crates.