A Timaru farmer accused of ill-treating 341 cattle that were discovered starved and dying on the Kurow farm was acquitted in the Oamaru District Court today.
Anthony James Lauren, 42, was facing six charges of ill-treating the animals, brought after a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry inspector and an Oamaru vet found 148 dead cows and calves at Mt Belle farm in Kurow on July 23, 2009. Later 13 cattle had to be put down.
The remaining 185 cattle were also found to be in distress and eventually were given to a neighbour to care for.
Judge Joanna Maze found the charges against Lauren not proven yesterday, after a trial held earlier this month in the Timaru District Court. She found Lauren had taken all practical steps to look after the animals and had engaged, instructed and paid a farm contractor, Simon Johnston, to care for the cattle.
During the trial, the court was told Lauren was leasing the farm on Guards Rd, Kurow, and he said in evidence he had instructed Simon Johnston from June 2, 2009, to feed the calves and cows that were on a hill block.
He also said the calves had been underweight by about 40kg when he bought them in April.
"I am satisfied . . . Mr Johnston was employed and engaged to look after all the stock at Mt Belle," Judge Maze said yesterday.
Lauren had paid Mr Johnston's company, Mt Belle Contracting Ltd, to carry out the work.
Witnesses had testified Lauren had shown he was concerned for the animals care.
She was satisfied Lauren had "from time to time" inquired about the stock and Mr Johnston led him to believe he was checking on them. He considered there was enough feed there for about six weeks.
Judge Maze also accepted he had taken the right steps after the discovery in relation to the euthanased and surviving cattle.
Mr Johnston gave evidence at the trial, saying he did not know Lauren had calves on the hill block.
He said he discovered seven calves and two cows "in terrible condition with very low weight". There were approximately 200 and they were not the calves he had been paid to feed.
Driving into the valley he saw several more dead calves.
MAF inspector Kevin Byrnes told the trial the hilltop was barren of grass and was scattered with dead calves.
"It's the worst animal welfare disaster I have ever been to."
- © Fairfax NZ News