A former dairy farmer has claimed that the practice of twisting the tails of cows to get them into milking sheds "seems to be reasonably widespread".
Defence counsel Craig Ruane voiced the claim at the Christchurch District Court sentencing of Michael Joseph Jackson, a dairy herd manager at Kowhitirangi on the West Coast where it was found that 230 of the 500-strong herd had tail injuries, including broken and dislocated tails.
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, was ordered to do 300 hours of community work by Judge Michael Crosbie, and he has also handed over $233 to pay for the farm-owner's veterinary bill.
He 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."
He said Jackson's understanding of matters was relatively limited.
"He is a very straight man who has difficulty understanding abstract concepts, even now."
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 understanding within the industry 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," said Fletcher.
"An excessive amount of force being used on valuable stock is quite unheard-of within the industry."
The ministry made it clear that this type of conduct would lead to prosecution.
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 of 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."
He said a large percentage of the animals in this herd had been found to have tails that were broken, dislocated, or injured.
Jackson would almost certainly have been aware of the injuries and they went untreated for some time.
He noted that Jackson had no previous convictions and had been struggling to cope with diabetes.
He imposed the sentence of 300 hours of community work and banned Jackson from owning dairy cows for five years.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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