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 a TDA Animal Health Official who will notify law enforcement of the complaint and coordinate an inspection.  If TDA finds that the animal’s condition suggests cruelty, TDA will work with local authorities to process criminal charges.

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

What constitutes livestock cruelty and what is the penalty?

Please see Tennessee Code Annotated 39-14-202 (2015) -

Please keep in mind it is a felony in Tennessee to present a false or baseless complaint regarding an animal cruelty matter.   

What to consider before filing a complaint

No. For investigatory purposes and allocation of resources, TDA will inspect only formal complaints filed by a person with first-hand knowledge of the livestock conditions. It is important to note that once filed, information contained in the complaint will at some point become public record and cannot be held confidential.

If an inspector with the Department of Agriculture determines there is probable cause for a criminal livestock cruelty investigation, TDA works with local authorities to seek resources for care of the animals.

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.

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 are fine without a blanket.

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.

Not necessarily. Lying down is natural for any and all livestock depending on the preference of the individual animal.

The best way to file a livestock abuse complaint is to do so through this website. This system requires your name and identifying information. Any complaints filed by a third party will be considered anonymous and will not be processed through this online system. If accessibility is a challenge or you need assistance, please contact the State Veterinarian’s Office at (615) 837-5120.

NOTE: It is a felony in Tennessee to present a false or baseless complaint regarding an animal cruelty matter.   

  • Your complaint has been received and has been forwarded to the appropriate Animal Health Official for follow-up.
  • You will receive an email confirming your complaint was received. TDA will take steps to examine the livestock and/or refer the matter to local authorities as necessary to process the matter as quickly as possible.
  • Complaints have the potential to become criminal investigations. Therefore, you will not receive updates about your complaint. Please note we take all complaints seriously and investigate each fully under the law.
  • The Department’s primary role in evaluating livestock cruelty allegations is to determine whether an animal’s conditions support a charge of animal cruelty. It is at the discretion of the local district attorney to decide if a criminal case will be pursued and what steps will be taken to resolve that case.
  • 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.
  • 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.