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SAFE Condemns Appalling Neglect of Dairy Cows

17 August 2017

NEW ZEALAND - 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 euthanised, 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.

SAFE’s Andrew Knight is a veterinary Professor of Animal Welfare.

He said, "Lameness 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.

New Zealand's Animal Welfare Act, and 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.

Professor Knight said, "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."

Accordingly, SAFE is encouraging consumers of milk and cheese to take a stand against dairy cow abuse, by considering alternatives such as soya-milk, and non-dairy cheese. SAFE’s Eat Kind programme exists to advise and support those wishing to trial alternatives.

Further Reading

Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

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