Lester Donald Reuben Johnstone, 82, of Maungatapere, was convicted in Whangarei District Court of failing to ensure that the physical and health needs of six calves were met.

He was disqualified from owning stock for 20 years and fined $7500. He was also ordered to pay $2379 in veterinary costs.

According to the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), which laid the charges, two calves starved to death, one had to be put down and three were removed from the property to reduce their suffering.

MPI staff paid four visits last year to properties owned or leased by Johnstone to inspect skinny calves after a complaint.

They found several animal welfare issues and did what they could to ease the animals’ suffering. Those issues included a mob of skinny weaner calves in a paddock without grass or water, an emaciated young cow having difficulty standing, and two calves that had died of starvation.

The young cow was put down.

MPI staff directed Mr Johnstone several times to provide better grazing and supplementary feeding for the animals, but he reneged on or ignored their instructions.

A veterinarian’s examination of live calves during an MPI visit in July found “the calves had been subjected to a prolonged period of starvation along with the suffering that it would have involved”. Three calves had to be removed from the property.

The court heard Johnstone had a significant history of similar offending. In 2003 he was fined $34,000 and banned from dairy farming for five years following an SPCA complaint about dead and emaciated calves and cows on his Maungatapere and Oakleigh properties.

MPI’s Whangarei compliance manager, Darren Edwards, said staff tried to work through issues with stock owners to improve animal welfare, but would not tolerate wilful negligence or cruelty. “When we find evidence of offending, we look to prosecute.”