The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is launching an investigation into footage leaked by animal cruelty lobbyists which shows bobby cows being thrown into trucks and dragged by the legs along the ground.
Farmwatch released the footage on Tuesday, and says all incidents captured on film during their investigations at dairy farms in the Taranaki region showed abuse except one.
Farmwatch spokesperson John Darroch says the abuse was uncovered by randomly placed cameras.
"Placing these cameras is difficult, and there aren't that many suitable locations for a variety of reasons, so we are literally randomly placing cameras," he said.
"None of the places where we've placed cameras this year we had information about in advance."
He said the workers were treating the calves with "no care whatsoever".
"You wouldn't put a sack of potatoes into a truck like that, but these workers were throwing calves as if they were inanimate objects."
MPI says the practices shown in the video are "unacceptable".
"The behaviour we have seen is deeply disappointing given that MPI and the industry have worked very hard to promote best practice in animal welfare, in every part of the bobby calf supply chain, leading into this bobby calf season," said MPI Manager Compliance Operations, Gary Orr.
"MPI takes any form of animal abuse seriously. Bobby calf welfare is a matter of collective responsibility and that includes Farmwatch coming to the party and letting us know as soon as they have evidence of ill-treatment."
MPI strengthened regulations around the treatment of calves in 2015 after an investigation into the treatment of bobby calves found similar footage of calves just days old being kicked and beaten.
However SAFE's head of campaigns, Mandy Carter, says the new footage shows nothing's changed.
"They actually filmed calves being thrown into the back of trucks, there was a calf being dragged along while its mother is trying to comfort the calf."
SAFE and Farmwatch has looked into farms in Waikato and Taranaki during the 2016 calving season.
Ms Carter says farmers are trying to keep the problem hidden rather than facing the issues.
"Those cages that were outside the farm gates with the calves in, a lot of them had been moved on to the farm now so rather than dealing with the cruelty issues they've attempted to put it out of sight."
She says there needs to be a change in culture surrounding bobby calves.
"They are actually regarded as a waste product because they are just discarded. There are 2 million of them killed every year at four days old."
Dairy New Zealand says though the footage shows handling that is "rougher than we like", the workers were following practice.
"The workers appear to be following the accepted practice of loading calves by rolling them rear end first," he said.
"Despite perception, this is the best way to prevent calves from stepping back out of the truck and causing themselves harm."
From August 1, new regulations came into force to improve the treatment of the animals. They included ensuring a cow was at least four days old before it was killed, that they could not be transported for more than 12 hours at a time or be killed by blunt force trauma to the head.
From August 2017 all farmers will be required to use ramps to move calves on to trucks.
However SAFE calls the regulations "mediocre" and want to see the throwing of calves banned, as it is in Europe, to see the transport time for young calves further reduced and to outlaw the starving of calves 24 hours before their slaughter.