Canterbury dairy farmer pleads guilty on serious animal welfare charges

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A local dairy farmer yesterday pleaded guilty in the Ashburton District Court to nine serious animal welfare charges brought against him by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

Sixty-one year old Geoffrey Deal pleaded guilty to a range of offences under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 including failing to ensure the physical health and behavioural needs of animals were met, ill treating animals, and failing to comply with the requirements of an MPI inspector. He will be sentenced on 28 October.

In June 2011 the former Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) was alerted to serious animal welfare concerns at Mr Deal's dairy farm by an industry group that had been working with him for the previous seven months to try and improve conditions on the farm. They had become concerned that Mr Deal seemed to show no desire to improve the conditions for his herd of dairy cattle and they felt that MAF (now MPI) needed to step in as regulator to ensure the welfare needs of the stock were met.

MAF inspectors visited the farm with a veterinarian on 22 June and found around seventy percent of his cows to be in a poor body condition with no feed available to them. The vet's opinion was that all of the cows on the farm were at least 100kg underweight for the time of year, and given their imminent calving were in an unacceptable condition and distressed state.

Over the next month MAF, a number of vets and a farm consultant all visited the farm on numerous occasions to try and get Mr Deal to take steps to improve the condition of his herd. They were regularly met with uncooperative behaviour, and during this time the condition of his herd continued to deteriorate.

After a visit on 14 July, 92 of a total of 124 cows on Deal's farm were found to be in a very poor condition, two of which were euthanised immediately by MAF inspectors. Deal was ordered to send the remaining 90 cows to the closest slaughterhouse within seven days. Once again this was not complied with and on 18 July he prevented the cows being transported.

After this it was clear that no further remedial action could be taken and on 29 July Mr Deal was served with an Order pursuant to sections 133 and 134 of the Animal Welfare Act. This enabled MAF to force Deal to destock his farm, with the majority of the 122 remaining cows being sold and put on new grazing.

Canterbury/Westland District Compliance Manager Peter Hyde believes that this matter never needed to end up with the destocking of Mr Deal's farm and his subsequent prosecution. "If Mr Deal had listened to the myriad of advice he was being offered from MPI and industry support groups, the condition of his herd would have undoubtedly improved."

"Even when animal welfare inspectors arranged for a vet and an expert farm consultant to provide advice, this was once again ignored and Mr Deal left us no alternative but to prosecute him and destock the farm."

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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