IN a bid to win prizes at shows around the country, some farmers are resorting to pumping gas into their cows’ udders. Even worse, they are then sealing the udders with glue, to prevent either milk or gas escaping, causing severe pain and discomfort to the animals.

The reason this is being done is that one of the criteria of judging is that a full udder is considered an attribute. Also, cows which have won prizes at top shows can fetch as much as £100,000 at auction, which has created ferocious competition.

British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Carl Padgett said: “Preventing the pumping going on will require a change of mindset and I do question why cows have to show huge udders to be champions.”

Mr Padgett is planning to meet breeders and show organisers to discuss routine ultrasound scanning of cows at shows.

Government deputy chief vet Alick Simmons said: “This practice is totally unacceptable and has serious welfare implications for the animals. Farmers clearly have a duty of care for their animals but vets, too, need to make sure they take action where they see this practice taking place.

“I have alerted the veterinary associations to this issue and would remind show vets to be on the lookout for this disturbing practice.”

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) implemented a rule banning the sealing of teats at a show in Birmingham last September. Defra has now promised to prosecute exhibitors found to be in breach of welfare laws. The RSPCA is also to investigate complaints with a view to bringing a criminal case to court. Anyone found guilty will face up to six months in prison, a £5,000 fine and a possible lifelong ban on keeping animals.

No prosecutions have so far taken place, but surveillance is being stepped up and prizewinning animals are to be checked for evidence of tampering.

Farm animal vet David Martin spoke out about the practice at a BVA conference in London last month. He said: “Filling udders with gas is becoming a serious problem.

“When an udder becomes full, it will cause severe discomfort. We think cows are being left like this for 12-24 hours.”

Previous attempts to stop the practice, which originated in America, have divided the farming community. In September last year, RABDF implemented a new rule banning the sealing of teats at a show in Birmingham. However, when judges at the show told owners of Holstein cows with sealed teats to withdraw their animals or face being kicked out of the competition, a group of exhibitors threatened to walk out.

The association backed down, but the U-turn incensed other farmers and vets. In October a farmer was caught out after he had won the top prize at an agricultural competition in the south-west. He was discovered after a complaint by another exhibitor, following which a vet confirmed that the teats of the prizewinning cow had been sealed.

The breeder, who has not been named, lost his prize and was suspended by the UK Jersey Cattle Society from exhibiting his animals until 2013.

Other breed societies, including Holstein UK, have also revised their rules to make it clear these practices are banned.