A former dairy farmer says twisting a cow's tail to get them into milking sheds "seems to be reasonably widespread".
Defence counsel Craig Ruane made the claim at the Christchurch District Court sentencing yesterday of Michael Joseph Jackson, a dairy herd manager at Kowhiterangi on the West Coast.
Two hundred and thirty of the 500-strong herd Jackson managed had tail injuries, including broken and dislocated tails.
He was ordered to do 300 hours' community work by Judge Michael Crosbie. He also paid $233 to pay for the farm owner's veterinary bill.
The claim of widespread tail twisting is disputed by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Jackson, 43, who now works in the meat processing industry in Ashburton, had pleaded guilty in November to a charge of failing to ensure that the health and behavioural needs of the animals were met.
Ruane said: "The allegation is that he twisted the tails of the animals up their back to encourage them into the herringbone shed. Obviously, he's taken it too far.
"I am told by Mr Jackson that this is a practice which seems to be reasonably widespread, although it is frowned upon by the animal welfare enforcement agencies for this very reason. I am not certain this message is getting through."
Jackson's understanding of matters was relatively limited.
"He is a very straight man who has difficulty understanding abstract concepts, even now," Ruane said
None of the animals had to be put down when the farm's owner noticed the injuries and had a sample of them checked by a veterinarian.
The prosecutor for the Ministry for Primary Industries, Grant Fletcher, said there was an industry understanding that a degree of force was used to put cows into dairy sheds.
"The issue is that this was excessive and a reasonable stock owner or farmer should not have used that degree of force.
"We don't accept that it is common practice within the industry - quite the opposite," Fletcher said. "An excessive amount of force being used on valuable stock is quite unheard of within the industry."
Similar conduct would lead to prosecution, he said.
Judge Crosbie said: "Fortunately, the type of offending you appear on is not all that common. It is important to highlight that animal welfare is a core component of the obligations of the Ministry for Primary Industries.
"The legislation is aimed at ensuring that those who care for animals understand that they have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure that they don't suffer.
"As well as the humanitarian grounds, failure to meet animal husbandry good practice could have consequences for the wider agricultural industry. Animal mistreatment, if widespread, would make our products far less desirable internationally."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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