A grazing and calf rearing company and former employees have been fined a total of $95,000 for their roles that led to the deaths of hundreds of calves.
In the Invercargill District Court yesterday (14/6/22) judge Brandts-Giesen set a starting point of $90,000 for VetEnt GC Limited (formerly GrazCare Limited). After discounts for a guilty plea and good character, the company was fined $63,000 for ill treatment of animals under the Animal Welfare Act.
The company’s former general manager, Mark James Harrison (42) was fined $19,000.
At a separate sentencing, the former Otago/Southland operations manager, Christopher Douglas Wilson (45), was fined $13,000. The company and both men had each earlier pleaded guilty to a representative charge of ill-treatment of animals. Judge Brandts-Giesen commented after the sentencing that he understood how difficult work in this industry could be. However, there was a need to ensure that animals were treated better.
The successful prosecution by the Ministry for Primary Industries follows an investigation into a calf rearing operation involving raising up to 1800 animals at an Invercargill farm in 2017.
The court found the company, along with Mr Wilson and Mr Harrison, responsible for the deaths of 457 calves out of 1769 that were sent to the farm between August and October that year.
"These young and vulnerable animals were not provided with the care they needed and suffered from diseases that were preventable. There quite simply is not any excuse for this kind of neglect," says MPI director compliance services, Gary Orr.
VetEnt GC Limited sourced calves and paid calf rearers to increase the calves’ weight to 100kg. In 2017, they contracted a calf rearing farmer to do this over 3 months for a payment of $180,000. Before this operation began, concerns about the farm facilities such as the size, construction, and lack of quarantine pens, were raised with Mr Harrison and Mr Wilson by independent specialists who inspected the set-up.
"Despite these concerns being brought up before the contract even started, they weren’t properly addressed. They had a responsibility to these young and vulnerable animals to ensure their welfare needs were met and they failed them," he says.
As the animals arrived, and the farm became more crowded, disease outbreaks occurred leading to deaths. An attending veterinarian raised concerns about a rotavirus and scours problem at the farm with Mr Wilson and Mr Harrison, which was being compounded by the increase in calves at the farm. The veterinarian advised for them to stop sending calves until the situation was under control. While VetEnt GC Limited did initially follow this advice, after a short time, they resumed sending calves to the farm.
"They had the information they needed to do right by these animals and did not act. Most people do the right thing for their animals. When we find evidence of animal neglect – you can be assured we will always investigate and hold those responsible to account," says MPI director of compliance services, Gary Orr.
Everyone has a responsibility to animals – if you become aware of suspected ill-treatment, cruelty or neglect, contact MPI’s animal welfare complaints freephone 0800 00 83 33. Alternatively, you can report an animal welfare issue online.