A large dairy corporation and 2 of its managers have been fined a total of close to $60,000 in relation to the worst case of long-term neglect in the dairy sector in the South Island.
Castlerock Dairies Limited, based in Invercargill, and the managers who ran 2 farms owned by the body corporate, earlier pleaded guilty to 8 charges under the Animal Welfare Act before being sentenced in the Invercargill District Court today.
The properties were being run by 41-year-old Jared Matthews, who managed 2,000 cows over 700 hectares and 44-year-old Dean McMillan who also managed a farm the same size with the same number of dairy cows.
Both men had overall responsibility for animal welfare on the 2 properties and the maintenance of farm infrastructure.
The company, Castlerock Dairies Limited has been convicted and fined $37,500 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of more than $11,500.
Matthews and McMillan were both convicted and fined $10,000 each, ordered to pay court costs of $130 each and were both sentenced to 275 hours community service.
The Ministry for Primary Industries brought charges against the company and the 2 managers after being advised in 2015 of serious animal welfare issues at the properties.
The offending involved a serious failure to maintain the lanes used by the cows to get to the milking shed on both properties. The lanes needed constant maintenance to prevent lameness but this didn't happen.
By the time MPI became involved, the lanes had been torn to pieces by constant use and were, in places, knee deep in thick mud and excrement. Any maintenance of the lanes was either inadequate or simply not undertaken when required.
MPI Manager of Compliance Investigations, Gary Orr, says the lameness suffered by the animals was catastrophic with animals presenting such a degree of lameness that they could not be treated, and were in significant pain.
"The walk to the milking sheds, because of the mud and the distance from the paddocks to the sheds, would take up to 3 hours one-way during which time the lame animals would have been in significant pain.
"The lanes had not been adequately maintained for about 2 years which is what contributed to the situation.
"The lack of work on the tracks was known to the defendants. As the animals walked long distances for milking, the lameness got worse. The tracks weren't repaired to prevent this.
A total of 193 cows had to be euthanised and 761 required veterinary treatment. Fourteen vets were required to spend weeks on the property initially by themselves then assisting MPI staff.
Throughout this time, the animals also suffered from ingrown horns which the managers failed to get treatment for resulting in unnecessary pain and discomfort.
Mr Orr says a senior attending veterinarian with over 18 years' experience described the situation as "disturbing and the extent of animal welfare issues on the farm as almost beyond comprehension.
"He described it as unparalleled and unprecedented in his direct experience. Another witness described it as "horrible and the worst case of neglect she had ever seen.
"It is MPI's view that the seriousness of the situation should have been immediately obvious to all concerned. The suffering of these animals was fully preventable.
"As well as the humanitarian grounds, failure to meet animal welfare requirements could have serious consequences for the wider agricultural industry.
Fortunately, offending on this scale has been rare in New Zealand.