Published on stuff.co.nz August 15 2017
An Invercargill dairy company and two of its managers have been fined by a court after “one of the worst examples of long-term neglect in the dairy sector”.
Castlerock Dairies Limited and the managers who ran two farms were fined $60,000 in total in the Invercargill District Court on Tuesday after earlier pleading guilty to eight charges under the Animal Welfare Act.
The properties were run by Jared Matthews, 41, and Dean McMillan, 44, who each managed about 2000 cows.
The neglect resulted in 193 cows being euthanised, and 761 requiring treatment for their injuries.
It is understood 24 vets were required to spend weeks on the property treating the animals.
The company was fined $37,500 and ordered to pay $11,574 prosecution costs.
The two farm managers were each fined $10,000 and ordered to do 275 hours community.
During sentencing, Judge Bernadette Farnan said the dairy farming community needed to be proactive in reporting any cases of animal neglect.
She suggested farm managers should report issues to the Ministry for Primary Industries if businesses were not being proactive.
The judge said there had been a breakdown in relationship between farm managers and the corporate body but each should have been more vigilant in calling in vets.
The extent of the animal health issues was “almost beyond comprehension”.
The situation on the farm was extremely grave but the farm managers did not set out to make the animals suffer, he said.
“They didn’t do their job.”
The company was remiss in not taking control of the farm and the farm managers were remiss in not grasping or recognising what was happening and taking steps to deal with it, he said.
“The managers will say they were starved of cash and couldn’t do their jobs and the company will say they were staved of information.”
Lameness would almost always occur on a farm but it had to be managed, he said.
Castlerock Dairies defence lawyer Garth Gallaway said when the Castlerock director and shareholder Graham McCullough realised how bad the situation was he immediately called the vets in and sometime later he called in MPI.
McCullough didn’t deny he was present on the farms for a good amount of time but he said he wasn’t aware of the problem and hadn’t observed it, Gallaway said.
He had been involved in farming for a long time but had engaged managers to do the lions share of work and he took a governance role.
Defence lawyer for McMillan, Rachael Adams, said there were too many animals on the farm and the scale of the farm was too great.
It was a perfect storm with the cows having to walk long distances to get to the shed and adverse weather conditions weakening the cows.
There had been no malicious intent by McMillan, she said.
“It was such a huge run … it was probably always going to fail.”
Defence lawyer for Matthews, Kate Logan said his offending was out of character.
He had introduced 16-hour milkings to reduce the frequency in which the cows had to to walk the lanes and to allow them further recovery time.
Matthews had relied on staff to draft the cows off and treat them and wasn’t aware the treatment wasn’t successful, but it was his responsibility, she said.
He had taken actions to address the poor quality of the lanes but the budget and poor weather interfered in the maintenance plans.
Judge Farnan said none of the defendants had prior convictions.
Ministry of Primary Industries manager of compliance investigations, Gary Orr, said the lameness suffered by the animals was “catastrophic” and their injuries were such that they could not be treated and they were in significant pain.
A vet with more than 18 years’ experience called the situation disturbing and said the animal welfare issues on the farm were almost beyond comprehension, according to Orr.
“He described it as unparalleled and unprecedented in his direct experience. Another witness described it as ‘horrible’ and the worst case of neglect she had ever seen.
“It is MPI’s view that the seriousness of the situation should have been immediately obvious to all concerned. The suffering of these animals was fully preventable.”
The case could have serious consequences for the wider agricultural industry, he said.
“Fortunately, offending on this scale has been rare in New Zealand.”
Dairy NZ also condemned the offending and said it sent a clear message to anyone with animals.
The organisation’s animal welfare specialist, Helen Thoday, said: “What occurred at Castlerock farm in 2015 is appalling. It’s just not okay for animals to be treated in this manner.
“The farming community around New Zealand will be appalled – they care about their animals, and treat them with care and respect.”
“This case of mistreatment is a sad slur on the good reputation of the thousands of good dairy farmers who are committed to providing their animals with a healthy and safe environment, and farming to high standards.”
The MPI said the offending involved a serious failure to maintain the lanes used by the cows to get to the milking shed on both properties.
By the time it became involved, the lanes had been torn to pieces by constant use and were, in places, knee deep in thick mud and excrement. Any maintenance of the lanes was either inadequate or simply not undertaken when required.
Orr said: “The walk to the milking sheds, because of the mud and the distance from the paddocks to the sheds, would take up to three hours one way during which time the lame animals would have been in significant pain.
“The lanes had not been adequately maintained for about two years which is what contributed to the situation.”