Farmer let cows starve after falling on hard times

A former Morrinsville farmer's attempt to carry on raising stock after being judged bankrupt caused the deaths of nearly 30 cows, a court has been told.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) inspectors found two dead cows and two others that needed to be immediately euthanased in paddocks with no grass when they arrived at one of two farms being leased by Peter David Knight in July last year.

Knight, now of Rotorua, was sentenced yesterday to four months' community detention, 200 hours' community service and banned from working with the animals for three years after earlier admitting seven bankruptcy and animal welfare charges in the Hamilton District Court.

Knight, 52, a cattle farmer, was adjudicated bankrupt in February 2012, but in the lead-up to the action he decided to wean some cattle from his herd.

He got help from two farmers, who are as yet unknown, to temporarily look after the cattle before taking out two separate lease agreements on two Morrinsville farms in April and then May 2012. He placed approximately 145 cattle on them, in breach of his insolvency agreement, whichrequired he declare any cattle to the Official Assignee.

On July 20, 2012, an RD1 agent visited the land and valued the cattle at $44,100.

The ministry's summary of facts stated that a week later the properties were inspected by one of its inspectors who immediately noticed the cows' emaciated condition.

He found two dead cows while two others were so weak they couldn't get to their feet.

Pasture levels were so low that there was effectively no grazing for the cattle.

In total, 79 cows were assessed, with 49 found to be in varying states of emaciation.

Of the 49, 33 were pregnantand 15 had recently calved.

Twenty-nine cows were eventually put down.

The ministry found that the stock ratio was 5.5 cows per hectare instead of the recommended 3.3 cows per hectare with the lactating cows only receiving 10 to 15 per cent of their daily nutritional requirements given their high feed need.

When questioned by the ministry, Knight said 40 cows were unexpectedly returned to him from free grazing at the end of June which caused the strain.

He noticed the animals going backwards at the start of July and admitted he was "trying to fly under the radar" as he was bankrupt so couldn't sell the animals or pay for additional feed.

Judge Barney Thomas told Knight his offending caused indirect losses to the credibility of the farming community which was a "very important industry to New Zealand" as well as the integrity of the bankruptcy proceedings.

"All of these things are crucial to business confidence, particularly in the primary industry sector," he said.

Judge Thomas took into account Knight's remorse and that he had no previous convictions.

"It only arose when you fell on tough times. It was a gross error of judgment on your part but it was born more out of naivety and foolishness than any deliberate attempt to cause loss or defraud anyone.

"You're of good character and have led a full life to date without putting a foot wrong." 

Waikato Times