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Successful Outcome to Northland Animal Welfare Prosecution

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's Special Investigations Group today welcomed the sentencing outcome for a prosecution taken under the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act heard at the Whangarei District Court.

Mr Lester Donald Reuben Johnstone, a farmer of Maungatapere near Whangarei, was charged with four charges relating to stock on two properties at Maungatapere and Oakleigh pursuant to s12(a) of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 for a failure to provide for the physical, health and behavioural needs of cattle.

Mr Johnstone entered guilty pleas to all charges. Judge Everitt convicted Mr Johnstone and fined him $34,000 in total for the four charges, plus $520 in Court costs and $1,800 in legal fees.

In addition Mr Johnstone was disqualified from farming dairy cattle for a period of five years.

MAF's senior animal welfare adviser Earl Culham said that the Ministry first became aware of this case on 4 August 2001, when an inspector visited the Johnstone property at Maungatapere as a result of a complaint received by the RNZSPCA.

"Following an initial property inspection a veterinarian was called in to inspect the condition of the stock. There were estimated to be over 50 animals on the property and the veterinarian noted a number of dead calves and thin-to-emaciated calves and cows," Earl Culham said.

"The veterinarian estimated the animals were likely to be getting only about 50 percent of their daily feed requirements and were being severely underfed for their body condition, the climatic conditions and having calves at foot.

"There was no evidence of any supplementary feed having been given."

On 6 August 2001, a MAF Inspector conducted a property inspection with a veterinarian and a RNZSPCA Inspector.

"At that time 181 yearlings or older cattle were on the property. In addition there were approximately 97 calves, which ranged in age from newborn to three months old. One Jersey cow noted as being in poor condition was euthanased by the MAF Inspector.

"One Jersey-cross cow had died in a wire trying to get at watercress growing in a stream.

"A bull was located with wire around its leg. Whilst the wire was not doing any damage at the time, it was removed to prevent further possible injury.

"There was no effective fencing system on the property.

"A Hereford-cross steer was located. The animal was three legged, the fourth foot was missing from the carpal joint down. The area had healed and it was the opinion of the veterinarian that the foot had come off at least two months ago as hair was growing right across the stump except for 1 centimetre in the centre of the stump. The natural movement and gait of the animal were inhibited and the animal appeared to be in considerable difficulty trying to move around the paddock. This animal was euthanased."

Earl Culham said that no reticulated water was available to the stock on a large part of the farm where the only water source was the creek, streams and swampy areas.

On 1 October 2001, a MAF inspector received a call from the RNZSPCA advising the poor condition of cattle belonging to Mr Johnstone on a property at Oakleigh. A veterinarian attended and viewed 27 Jersey cattle returned to the home farm at Maungatapere from the Oakleigh grazing property. Following examination he considered that there were no signs of clinical disease and from their condition the cattle had been severely underfed.

The same day an RNZSPCA Inspector accompanied by a veterinarian attended the lease block property at Oakleigh. The land comprised one large paddock with water available at the front from some dams.

Earl Culham said that four carcasses were found on this property. "One body of a Friesian cow looked as though it had been dead a month. It was stuck in a swampy area, having tried to access the longer grass or rushes. Two more bodies were found in the swamp with another located in the gorse.

"Seven animals were assessed as having a body score condition of 2.5 - 3. These cattle had no fat cover and had suffered wastage of muscle tissue. The remaining cattle were considered to be in light but not critical condition.

"Seventeen cattle were inspected by the MAF inspector. Four were all extremely thin with all of the skeletal bones of the spine, ribs and pelvis all extremely prominent under the skin. These four animals were assessed at condition score between 2 and 3. All other cattle were considered to be in poor condition.

"All of these animals required significant veterinary care and some were euthanased because their health was unrecoverable.

"The scale of the fines handed down in this case is a reflection of the importance society places on caring for animals. The message to those who own or are in charge of animals is to be aware of your duty of care and to attend to the needs of your animals," Earl Culham said.

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