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Livestock Welfare

Healthy livestock are a vital part of agriculture and our rural communities. In Tennessee, the vast majority of farmers and livestock owners consider the welfare of their animals to be a top priority. However, when a citizen believes that livestock is being subjected to cruelty, that citizen can contact local law enforcement or file a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture through this website.

Once a livestock cruelty complaint is received by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, it is forwarded to local law enforcement who may request that TDA assist in the investigation. If requested to assist, a TDA staff member will examine the livestock in question and determine if its conditions support a reasonable belief that the livestock is suffering from animal cruelty. If TDA finds that the animal’s conditions suggest cruelty, local authorities may continue a criminal investigation of the matter. TDA’s role is only the first step in a process that involves review by multiple agencies to determine if animal cruelty charges or other measures are warranted.

Complaints received through this website will be addressed within one business day. If the situation is an emergency and you are filing a complaint outside of regular business hours, please contact local law enforcement immediately.

It is important to note that the Tennessee Department of Agriculture only conducts examinations in alleged livestock cruelty cases. If your concern involves a dog, cat or companion animal, you must contact local authorities. The guidance provided on this website only applies to cattle, horses, swine, sheep, goats, poultry and other livestock.

What constitutes livestock cruelty and what is the penalty for a livestock cruelty conviction?

Please see Tennessee Code Annotated 39-14-202 (2015) - http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/tncode/

What to consider before filing a complaint:

  1. What is considered adequate care for livestock?
  2. I don’t want to file a formal complaint with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture or local law enforcement. Can you just go by and check out the situation? No. In order for the Department of Agriculture to inspect for potential livestock abuse, a formal complaint must be filed and the local law enforcement agency must request that the Department of Agriculture respond. TDA will not respond to a location without a request from law enforcement.
  3. Can I file a formal complaint with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture but remain anonymous? No. This website is the best method by which to file a complaint, however your name and personal information is required. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you must contact your local law enforcement agency directly to file a report. We cannot guarantee that your information will remain confidential. Once the case has concluded, any information obtained in the course of the investigation becomes public record. A complainant must have witnessed the alleged cruelty. Any complaints filed by a third party will be considered anonymous and cannot be processed through this online system.
  4. Can I give food or water to the animals? No. Trespassing violates Tennessee law, and safety can be an issue for you and/or the livestock. In addition, animals suffering from malnutrition or other ailments need to be evaluated by a veterinarian or animal health professional to determine the best course of action. Feeding or otherwise providing treatment to an animal prior to a health exam can cause additional harm.
  5. If abuse or neglect is determined, what will happen to the livestock? If an inspector with the Department of Agriculture determines there is probable cause for a criminal livestock cruelty investigation, local law enforcement will take over the case. If necessary and requested, TDA will help law enforcement identify resources to assist with care. A judge will then decide the next step for the animals and whether or not they will be available for sale or adoption.
  6. Shouldn’t livestock always have access to a barn for shelter? No. A barn is not always necessary for animal care. Trees, hedges, a hillside or other natural barrier can provide appropriate cover and windbreak for livestock.
  7. I have noticed some owners put blankets on their horses in winter. If a horse is out in a pasture without a blanket in cold weather, is that considered abuse? No. Horses are predisposed to form a thicker hair coat in the winter months to provide warmth. While some equine owners may prefer to blanket their horses in inclement weather, most horses, ponies and mules do just fine without a blanket.
  8. I’ve seen some herds of cattle that seem very thin. Are they starving? Not necessarily. Dairy cattle can appear thinner than beef cattle as much of their dietary intake goes to milk production. It is common to see some of a dairy cow’s rib, hip and back bones. Age can also be a factor in body weight for all types of livestock.
  9. Sometimes I see livestock lying down in the field. Is the animal sick? Not necessarily. Lying down is natural for any and all livestock depending on the preference of the individual animal.
  10. Will I be notified of the outcome of the investigation? It is up to local law enforcement and the district attorney to ultimately determine if a criminal investigation will be initiated. Those agencies are responsible for releasing any information related to a criminal case.

The best way to file a livestock abuse complaint is to do so through this website. This system requires your name and identifying information. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, you must contact your local law enforcement agency directly to file the complaint. Any complaints filed by a third party will be considered anonymous and cannot be processed through this online system.
NOTE: It is a felony in Tennessee to present a false or baseless complaint regarding an animal cruelty matter.

Click Here to File a Complaint

What happens next?

  • You will receive an email confirming your complaint was received.
  • The Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the sheriff’s department in the county of the alleged incident will be notified.
  • Local law enforcement will decide if they will ask TDA to inspect the livestock.
  • If local law enforcement requests the assistance of TDA, examination of the livestock in question will commence.
  • The Department’s primary role in evaluating animal cruelty allegations is to assist local law enforcement agencies in determining whether an animal’s conditions support a charge of animal cruelty. It is at the discretion of law enforcement and the district attorney to decide if TDA will be involved, if a criminal case will be initiated, and what steps will be taken to resolve that case.

Additional Resources:

  • UT Extension - The University of Tennessee Extension program offers education and outreach in every county in Tennessee. Extension agents are highly trained and able to provide information on a variety of agricultural and livestock care topics. These programs are available to all county residents.
  • FACCT - The Farm Animal Care Coalition of Tennessee is an educational resource, providing training and information regarding farm animal welfare to producers and the general public.