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A cow is milkedChristinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Twenty counts of animal cruelty have been laid against a dairy farm and seven of its employees in British Columbia's Fraser Valley, about 18 months after a disturbing video surfaced showing farm animals being viciously beaten.

Sixteen of the counts are related to cruelty against cows and four concern treatment of a pigeon, the SPCA said.

Chilliwack Cattle Sales Ltd. and five of its corporate directors have also been charged with causing or permitting animals to be in distress — the first time a B.C. company has been held accountable for acts of cruelty on a farm, the SPCA says in a news release.

Spokeswoman Marcie Moriarty said the agency received an undercover video in June 2014 showing dairy cows being beaten with chains, canes and rakes, and being kicked and punched after they were trapped and could not escape the abuse.

"The images in this case were distressing and clearly unacceptable," she says in a statement.

"British Columbians are increasingly concerned about the treatment of farm animals and we look forward to continuing to work with government and industry on solutions to prevent further neglect and abuse among the 100 million farm animals raised in B.C. each year."

She says six employees are each charged with causing distress to an animal and failing to care for and protect an animal under the Protection of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Three of the workers, along with an additional seventh person, face an additional two charges related to lifting a cow by a chain and kicking and hitting the animal.

Four of the employees also face a charge under a section of the Wildlife Act that deals with injuring or destroying a bird, says a statement from the Criminal Justice Branch. No further details were provided about the charge related to the alleged treatment of a pigeon.

In June 2014, the SPCA recommended the province lay charges of animal cruelty against the company and a handful of its employees after receiving the graphic video collected covertly by the animal-rights activist group Mercy For Animals Canada.

Animal-rights organizations have made repeated calls that charges be laid in the aftermath of the video's release, demanding the province take punitive action on what the Vancouver Humane Society describes as one of the worst cases of farm-animal cruelty in Canadian history.

Owner Jeff Kooyman said at the time the video was "horrifying to watch" and pledged to work with the SPCA on better training for staff.

He could not immediately be reached for comment following Tuesday's announcement of charges.

Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for the Criminal Justice Branch, said the charge assessment process has been "lengthy" due to a variety of factors, including the nature of the initial investigation, the number of potential accused and delay in the branch's completion of charge assessment.

The accused are set to appear in a Chilliwack court in April.