Ashburton dairy herd manager convicted on serious animal welfare charges

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A local dairy herd manager has been convicted today in the Ashburton District Court on serious animal welfare offences after the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) brought charges against him under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Thirty-eight-year-old dairy herd manager Kevin Craig Smith was convicted after pleading guilty to the wilful ill-treatment of 154 dairy cows by breaking their tails and failing to provide those dairy cows treatment in relation to the broken tails. In addition, during this time he admitted to striking the animals with a plastic pipe.

Mr Smith had been working on an Ashburton Dairy farm. As herd manager he was responsible for the day-to-day running of the farm and the welfare of the two herds of dairy cows, consisting of 130 and 510 cows respectively.

Mr Smith will be sentenced on 14 October. The maximum penalty the judge could impose is a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $100,000.

Suspicions around Mr Smith’s treatment of the cows were raised in April, after an artificial Insemination Technician working on the farm heard a loud noise and sounds of distress from a cow. When she went to see what happened, she saw him looking angry and a cow with blood coming down its tail. Mr Smith took no obvious steps to treat this injury.

After this incident, a veterinary inspection of the herd was arranged in late April and found that 154 cows had fractures in their tails that were clearly man-made. MPI was alerted and a compliance investigation was initiated. During interviews with MPI investigators, Mr Smith admitted to wilfully breaking the tails of a number of cows and that he was “sickened” by what he had done.

MPI Canterbury/Westland District Compliance Manager, Peter Hyde, said Smith’s treatment of the animals under his care was some of the worst he has come across in his district. “Bending and twisting tails to force cows into the milking shed is forbidden under the Code of Welfare.”

“The defendant didn’t accidentally break the tails trying to force the cows into the milking shed, they were deliberately broken after he lost his temper.”

“This sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable to MPI and the wider farming community. If animal welfare abuse of this nature is detected it will almost certainly result in prosecution.”

“People in charge of animals have an obligation to safeguard the welfare of those animals. The vast majority of persons in charge of animals on farms and the industry take their obligations toward good stockmanship very seriously. Cases like this are very much the exception to the rule.”

It is important that stock owners, farmers, the industry, associated on-farm service providers and the public maintain vigilance and report animal welfare concerns on our hot line 0800 00 83 33. Calls can be treated in confidence if necessary. MPI and industry will continue to work together to help ensure this type of incident does not occur in the future. 

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