The paddock of horror near my home is an example of our lax animal laws.

New research shows cows can be toilet trained. Capturing cow urine can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution, researchers say.

OPINION: Not far from where I live is a little corner of hell on earth.

We refer to it as the paddock, though it would measure a couple of acres at least, tucked around the back of a place where people build very big houses on very small sections.

The animals kept within the fences change every so often. Sometimes sheep exist there, other times goats or cattle, but regardless of what species they are, all the beasties have one awful thing in common: their suffering.

The paddock has no shelter, natural or man-made. No trees or hills provide respite from the elements, no sheds or screens allow its inmates to cool down or warm up, it is just four long fences around a big bit of brownish earth.

READ MORE:
* Cows in mud: Photos reignite winter cropping debate
* Govt could appoint commissioner to improve animal welfare
* Farm animals suffering in the heat with no shade, animal welfare supporters say

Sheep gather in the shade of trees on a hot day on a Turakina farm (File photo).
Stuff
Sheep gather in the shade of trees on a hot day on a Turakina farm (File photo).

It’s horrific in there during winter. That’s when the ground turns to mud and the animals stand hunched in the rain and wind, the very definition of misery. They press together for warmth, huddle in the corners and stand plaintively in freezing wind and rain. But it’s in summer that the paddock becomes a real hellscape.

When the temperatures rise the animals bake: the cows use each other for shade, and the sheep crowd panting around the thin slivers of shadow provided by battens. The goats either lie as if they’re dead or just stand and cry.

The paddock and its prisoners are oft-discussed in my community. The fancy subdivision it borders is on a good dog-walking route so animal lovers are always passing by the suffering it contains.

“Those poor bloody animals,” we say to each other, and discuss what we can do about them.

Someone who is definitely not me once suggested we knock the fences down, but that would be very bad behaviour indeed, so we instead take turns to ring various agencies and authorities. Someone who is also not me once left a letter on the gate for the owners, but ultimately the only thing that changes is the type of creature suffering in the paddock.

The Animal Welfare Code sets minimum standards for sheep and beef cattle, including access to shelter.
John Hawkins
The Animal Welfare Code sets minimum standards for sheep and beef cattle, including access to shelter.

It’s easy to dismiss anyone concerned by livestock as being just another bleeding-hearted townie, when caring about any animal’s welfare is entirely natural for normal humans. While some “lifestyle farmers” like to say livestock are miraculously impervious to things like the weather, they’re not.

On the farm I used to run, every paddock had shelter that animals could always access and, other than donkeys who took great pride in appearing as miserable as equinely possible in the rain, they did. Yes, even cows and sheep.

New Zealand’s animal welfare laws are bad enough for domestic pets – chained dogs anyone? – but they’re even worse for livestock, that name we give to animals we eat.

Even so, the Animal Welfare Code sets minimum standards for sheep and beef cattle, including access to shelter to reduce the risk to their health and welfare caused by cold. They also must be provided with means to minimise the effects of heat stress.

Unfortunately, these laws appear to mostly rely on people doing the right thing. When they don't, nothing much happens.

So this summer when you pass those paddocks like the one near me and wonder if all the suffering you see so plainly is actually legal, it’s not.

As to what you do about it? You can worry, call the authorities, and, when nothing changes, do as I did and take your bleeding heart on another route, avoiding the sight.

The animals will still be there suffering, it just doesn’t hurt as much if we can’t see them.