One Farmer, three farms, 445 sheep euthanased

12 August, 2008

Otago farmer John Dempster was today sentenced in the Dunedin District Court for failing to maintain the welfare needs of his sheep. He was fined $15 000, of which $5000 is to be paid to the Otago SPCA, he was also ordered to pay $15 773.95 in costs and disqualified from owning, exercising or commercial farming of sheep for a minimum period of 10 years.

Mr Dempster had sheep on three separate properties, "Willowbrook", "Thornhill" and "Hillhead".

A MAF Enforcement Group Animal Welfare Investigator first assessed the sheep on the 16th June 2006 after a complaint from a member of the public had been received.

The initial assessment of the home property "Willowbrook" revealed sheep in a malnourished state, with evidence of deaths. The property was run down, with run-out pasture and internal fences not stock proof.

Subsequent assessment of the sheep on the other two properties by Enforcement Group personnel and veterinarians found more stock in poor condition and the properties in a similar state.

It became apparent there had been chronic under-feeding, this being reflected in the poor condition of the ewe flock with most being severely underweight.

Given there was a massive feed deficit Mr Dempster agreed to radically destock, with two properties, "Thornhill" and "Hillhead" being totally destocked, while a small flock of less than 300 sheep were able to be fed on "Willowbrook".

Between 21 June and 03 July 2006 a total of 1153 sheep were sold. Due to their poor condition 445 sheep had to be euthanased on site.

Post mortem examinations conducted on some of the sheep, found signs consistent with chronic under-nutrition and emaciation.

Mr Dempster stated he had lost some farm help recently, and he was getting older and not as physically able as he used be, which had contributed to the poor condition of his animals.

MAF Investigations Manager Greg Reid said that he was surprised that a farmer of Mr Dempster's experience and knowledge had ended up in such a dire predicament. "I cannot accept that he didn't know what was happening and that he did not understand what was needed to resolve the situation. Simply going into denial and ignoring a blossoming disaster on the scale we have seen here beggars belief."

Mr Reid also noted that in regards to the sentencing, MAF is pleased the Judge has recognised the valuable contribution the SPCA make to New Zealand's animal welfare outcomes.

MAF urges farmers, particularly those who may be suffering with the ongoing impact of the recent drought, to be proactive, not to leave their decision making too late and remember that management of supplementary feed or reduction in stocking rate is pivotal.

Assistance and advice to those farmers in difficulty is available through agencies such as the Rural Support Trusts, Federated Farmers, Inland Revenue, WINZ and Lifeline.

"I accept that disposing of animals may be a hard call in tough times, especially when they may be light or when the market isn't paying a premium, but it is an offence to hold on to them in some vain hope of things improving and they suffer as a result". Mr Reid said.

Photos available on request

Media Contact:

Greg Reid
Investigations Manager
MAF Biosecurity New Zealand
Phone: 029-909 3544

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