Published on stuff.co.nz 12 June 2016
The son of National MP Barbara Kuriger, who is also an award-winning sharemilker, has failed to be discharged without conviction for the ill-treatment of dozens of cows.
But his lawyer says nothing would have gone wrong if the farm owners had kept their end of the bargain.
Tony Michael Kuriger was convicted by Judge Lance Rowe in the Palmerston North District Court on Friday.
He had applied for a discharge without conviction, which the judge declined.
He was not disqualified from owning or controlling animals.
Tony Kuriger is an experienced dairy farmer, working in the industry since his early teens.
He won the sharemilker/equity farmer of the year award in 2014 from the Hawke’s Bay Wairarapa Dairy Industry Awards.
His father and another person, Louis Stephen Kuriger and Lloyd Timothy Harris, were also charged.
Charges against those two were dropped, while Tony Kuriger pleaded guilty during trial in January to amended charges.
A company the trio directed, Oxbow Dairies Ltd, was also guilty of wilful ill-treatment and fined $30,000.
Barbara Kuriger, National’s former spokesperson for rural communities, who holds the Taranaki-King Country seat, was in court for her son’s sentencing.
She was not charged with any offending.
The ill-treatment took place on a farm at Hukanui, a small settlement between Eketāhuna and Pahīatua in northern Wairarapa between October 2016 and April 2017, where Tony Kuriger ran a sharemilking operation.
Veterinarians found widespread lameness among the herd, and gave Tony Kuriger instructions on how to care for the animals.
Some animals needed amputations, which were bandaged.
Tony Kuriger was told when to remove the bandages, but did not follow instructions, with one cow getting a severe maggot infestation as a result.
In total, 74 cows were treated for lameness – 54 of them at the severe or chronic stage – while 22 had to be euthanised.
Tony Kuriger’s lawyer Susan Hughes, QC, said the property had a history of lameness because the races were not kept up to scratch.
Previous sharemilkers had cows go lame, while Fonterra records showed the new sharemilkers had the same problem.
The milking contract required the farm owners to fix the races, which further deteriorated during the exceedingly wet winters, Hughes said.
According to affidavits filed to the court, the farm was owned by Peter and Bill Avery.
Tony Kuriger did not set out to harm the cattle, proven by the fact he contacted vets, DairyNZ’s early response service, Fonterra and the Ministry for Primary Industries for help.
He tried to get something done about the races, and the ministry could have forced the owners to.
“No-one came to Mr Kuriger’s aid,” Hughes said.
The farm had two managers resign shortly before the offending due to the stress of the lameness issues, while Tony Kuriger had poor health at the time.
“The farm was understaffed [and] the staff there were plainly overwhelmed by the circumstances of the lameness,” Hughes said.
Tony Kuriger lived at and managed a different farm and, with hindsight, would have stayed away from the farm with poor tracks.
He never intended to harm his cows, and believed getting vets involved meant the “baton had been passed to others”.
He also did not get written care instructions, and did not remember vets telling him what to do.
He had since suffered a significant back injury, ruling out dairy farming as a long-term prospect, Hughes said.
“This case calls for compassion.”
Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said wilful ill-treatment was the most serious kind of offending under the Animal Welfare Act.
It was not tenable for a farmer to only get help when things got so bad cattle were going lame and needing amputations, he said.
It was a sharemilker’s responsibility to make sure cows did not go lame and get treatment when issues came up, instead of blaming a dispute with landowners about getting races sorted, Vanderkolk said.
The judge said dairy was a key part of the country’s expert economy, and people expected it to be produced ethically.
“[That] includes that they are produced in a way that provides an emphasis on the health and welfare of farmed animals.”
If Tony Kuriger did not hear the care instructions and needed them written down, he should have asked for it, the judge said.
He was suffering from various stressors, had battled to get the races sorted and was not being callous or indifferent to the cows.
“In short, he was overwhelmed,” the judge said.
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