Owner of starving herd 'under financial pressure'
The owner of a starving Rotomanu herd was understood to be under financial pressure and new to the West Coast.
Vets were forced to put down 150 starving cows and 30 calves after an inspector from the Primary Industries Ministry found a 900-cow dairy herd in a distressed state in the farming district near Lake Brunner.
Another 60 cows able to be transported were taken to the freezing works. The rest of the herd were taken on by West Coast farmers and are expected to take a lot of nursing.
The ministry is investigating the animal welfare case and while details have yet to be officially released, the property was overstocked.
The owner of the herd or owners of the leasehold operation have yet to be identified with the ministry intending to conclude the investigation before considering charges.
Federated Farmers West Coast president Katie Milne said many dairy farmers would be disappointed by the state of the herd because it was ethically unacceptable and unfairly tarnished everyone in the industry.
"Most farmers - 99 per cent of them - want to do the best for their animals and these guys did too, but things got away from them . . . and they made the wrong call when they should have put their hands up early. It's not normal by any means because they [the animals] are too valuable."
West Coast dairy farmers were groaning inside because the owners had not been at Rotomanu for long, she said.
"Obviously things had gone wrong for these people and they didn't set out to do this. They are in bits about this and they are not cruel people."
Weather conditions have been virtually ruled out as a cause for the poor condition of the herd, with the West Coast getting through a reasonable winter.
The destroyed cows would have been worth about $2000 each and those saved would be 10 per cent down in value because of their poor condition.
Milne said farmers had made several attempts to offer assistance to the owner without much success.
"I am at Rotomanu and you have to have your wits about you. You can do it well and our milk production is well above average, but if you are a bit shabby it will show you up because we are near the alps and it's a shorter growing season."
The incident was made worse by many of the cows being in the middle of calving and malnourished calves having to be put down.
Westland Milk Products says a review will be carried out after the ministry investigation.
The herd owner had been told milk would not be collected from the farm until the ministry confirmed animal welfare had been restored.
New terms were introduced by the co-operative last month in a code designed to prevent animal neglect or environmental issues.
Chief executive Rod Quin said the co-operative had taken a hard line on the "severe" incident.
He said the individual was only one farmer among 400 suppliers and did not reflect the high standard of dairying on the Coast.
"It's completely unacceptable in the industry to have a farmer neglecting animal welfare. We haven't started collecting milk from the farmer, but the board has agreed there will be no collection at the farm until the ministry can confirm animal welfare is no longer being compromised."
He said several factors were behind cow neglect with each case different, but stress was often the common thread.
Westland failed to accept newcomers would struggle to operate a dairy farm in West Coast conditions as dairying had been in the region for 130 years.
Chairman Matt O'Regan said Westland had been concerned about the farm before the code was set in place and attempts had been made to assist the farmer
- © Fairfax NZ News
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