Farmer loses cows to feed 'hardware'
Carterton dairy farmer Chris Engel is out of pocket but better informed after two of his cows died of "hardware disease", the industry term for cows that die from ingesting metal fragments in palm kernel expeller supplementary feed.
Now he wants to alert other farmers to the importance of reading the fine print on their PKE supply deals.
Mr Engel sought compensation of $12,522.23 from PKE supplier INL through the Masterton District Court Disputes Tribunal.
It would have covered the death of the cows, lost milk production, veterinarian fees and other costs.
But the tribunal ruled that his cover extended only to the value of his cows - $5760.
After six months of legal wranglings he says he has no confidence in the system that manufactures PKE or in its screening processes.
He warns farmers to read the fine print on the back of the contracts they sign with the supplier. His failure to do so meant the tribunal was limited by a restricted liability clause (No 14) in the contract.
Mr Engel struck problems with metal fragments in deliveries of PKE from INL earlier this year. He uses a Keenan mixer wagon that has magnets attached to draw metal fragments from the meal.
INL told him the deliveries were free of fragments, but Mr Engel says he still found numerous metal pieces after searching through 10 tonnes of PKE on concrete pads.
He declined further deliveries, but two cows died, one in March, the second in August.
An autopsy indicated the first cow died of "hardware disease" and Mr Engel sought compensation from INL.
The company refused to accept liability but made a compensation offer.
However, it asked Mr Engel to sign a settlement statement with a confidentiality clause, which he refused. After this he received a letter withdrawing the offer and telling him it would defend the complaint "rigorously". "This was like a red rag to a bull," he says.
Then the second cow died and again an autopsy pointed to "hardware disease". A magnet placed over the wounds drew metal fragments.
He then took his compensation battle to the Disputes Tribunal.
The tribunal agreed on the cause of the cows' deaths and commented that under clause 12 of the contract between the parties, INL warranted that the goods supplied "will be free from defect".
This breach entitled Mr Engel to some compensation, but not the full amount claimed.
INL told the tribunal it had received no other complaints from farmers about PKE causing cow deaths, but Mr Engel says farmers who do not have magnetised feeder wagons are probably unaware that their PKE could be contaminated with metal or that it could cause cow deaths.
INL quoted a Primary Industries Ministry report that said contamination by metal fragments during processing of PKE was normal and expected. It relied on its overseas suppliers to remove the metal and said this complied with MPI requirements.
After recent rule changes, export ships are now inspected before leaving Malaysia and Indonesia and all PKE entering New Zealand is screened at ports before delivery to farms.