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SAFE condemns appalling neglect of dairy cows

August 16th, 2017

SAFE was appalled to learn of one of New Zealand’s most serious cases of systematic neglect of farmed animals this week.

At two farms operated by Invercargill-based Castlerock Dairies Ltd., a  staggering 193 cows had to be euthanized, and another 761 required  treatment. Almost 100 others had ingrown horns. More than 1,000 cows  were affected, out of a population of approximately 4,000. 

Lameness, in particular, is a notorious welfare problem for dairy  cows. It can cause severe pain and decreased ability to walk – which can  affect a cow’s ability to feed, and to visit the milking shed. These in  turn can result in under-nutrition, and swelling and inflammation of  the udders, which can lead to mastitis and other diseases. The UK’s Farm  Animal Welfare Council – which advises its government – has described  lameness as the “most important animal welfare problem for the dairy  cow”. In-growing horns are also likely to cause substantial, ongoing  pain and discomfort.

Both of these problems are largely preventable. Polled breeds of  cattle which naturally lack horns are available, and lameness is largely  caused by bad management – in this case, by allowing tracks to become  potholed, and covered knee-deep with thick mud and excrement, through  which these cows had to repeatedly walk.

Our Animal Welfare Act, and our Code of Welfare (Dairy Cattle),  require farmers to properly care for their animals. Lameness is  recognised as a painful condition, requiring “immediate and effective  treatment”. The maximum available penalties under the Act are 12 months  imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for individuals, and a $250,000 fine for  corporations. 

In this case, the number of animals affected, and the level of neglect, were described as “unparalleled and unprecedented” by a senior attending veterinarian with over 18 years’ experience. And  yet, despite committing offences at the extreme end of the scale, the  farmers responsible in this case each received only 275 hours of  community work and a $10,000 fine plus costs. Far from being  disqualified to work with animals, these men have gone on to work for  other farms. The corporation received a $37,500 fine plus $11,500 costs –  less than $50,000 in total.

This represents nothing short of a gross miscarriage of justice, for  the animals this Act was designed to protect. Penalties a mere quarter  or less of those available, for animal welfare offences at the most  extreme end of the scale, clearly demonstrate that those of us who care  about animals cannot rely on our legal system alone. 

 

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