Confusion over instructions to a worker managing a 32 hectare Northland property led to 12 cows starving to death and the owner being convicted of ill treatment of animals.
Niven John Lowrie, of Kaiwaka, appeared for sentencing on a charge of ill treatment of animals laid by the Ministry for Primary Industries in Whangarei District Court on 1 May.
Judge Davis fined Mr Lowrie $4,000 ordered him to pay $1848.46 in vet expenses, $960 in costs to MPI and $130 court costs.
Mr Lowrie had earlier defended a serious charge of reckless ill treatment and a lesser charge ill treatment in Whangarei District Court on 24 and 25 February.
In a written decision on 9 March, Judge McNaughton found Mr Lowrie not guilty on the charge reckless ill treatment, but guilty of the ill treatment of animals.
The charges follow a visit to the farm by MPI animal welfare inspectors who found 12 dead cattle and further 13 cattle that were emaciated. There were in a paddock that was completely devoid of pasture and the water trough was empty.
Mr Lowrie was working on a dairy farm at Fox Glacier at the time of an inspection and had employed a farm worker to visit his Kaiwaka farm daily to move stock to new pasture and feed hay.
The worker said he did not realise there were two herds of cattle on the farm, one of 10 and another of 25 animals.
After intervention by MPI and improved feed and water, the 13 emaciated cattle recovered under the care of the worker.
The farm was also carrying 160 deer. Seven of the deer were in very poor condition and had to be euthanised. An animal welfare inspector and an independent veterinarian assessed there was not enough pasture for the remaining deer and arranged for 80 deer to be sold or slaughtered.
In an interview with animal welfare officers, Mr Lowrie said he gave his worker instructions on the extent of the farm, the location of the animals and the storage of hay.
Judge McNaughton said that after the issue came to light, Mr Lowrie left the farm a second time and chose to leave the same worker in charge. He said it was “highly implausible” Mr Lowrie would leave the worker in charge again if he believed the worker was entirely at fault.
“The only reasonable interpretation is that the defendant acknowledged the shortcomings of his instructions the first time around and tried to rectify that mistake with a more detailed tour before leaving the second time.”
On the charges of ill treatment of animals, Judge McNaughton said the animals were Mr Lowrie’s primary responsibility and that they suffered pain and distress through starving to death.
On the charge of reckless ill treatment of animals, he said Mr Lowrie’s “dire financial circumstances” meant it was highly unlikely he would deliberately risk the death of animals that were collectively worth $6000.