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Two South Westland dairy farmers, a stock agent, a trucking company and two of its middle management have been prosecuted over a road trip suffered by 25 cows on the way to the slaughterhouse.
It is the first prosecution by the Ministry for Primary Industries under the Animal Welfare Transport Code.
At the heart of the case, which was part heard in the Greymouth District Court yesterday, was a cattle shipment from Whataroa and Hari Hari to the Silver Fern Farms meatworks in Hokitika on October 25 last year, which was then diverted to a freezing works at Belfast, in Christchurch.
Five of the 25 beasts did not make it, one drowning in effluent in the truck, two being put out of their misery on the way and two others euthanised on arrival.
Whataroa farmer Daniel John Dennehy, 38, was discharged without conviction yesterday when he pleaded guilty to permitting unfit animals to be transported.
Dennehy was jointly charged with Hari Hari farmer Zane Wyatt, 39, and Christchurch stock agent Trevor Ross Fairbrother, 52. Wyatt and Fairbrother have yet to be dealt with but Judge David Saunders said his decision on Dennehy was not binding on the judges who hear their cases.
The trucking company, Trans West Freighters, was also charged, along with two members of management. The truck driver was issued with a warning.
Dennehy had arranged through the stock agent for 10 cows to be processed by Silver Fern Farms at Hokitika, while Wyatt was sending 15 animals on the same truck.
The night before the trip the farmers were told that the beasts would instead be going to Belfast. By the time the truck reached Arthur's Pass the driver was concerned about the noise coming from the back of the truck and stopped to inspect the stock.
One of Dennehy's cows had died, drowning in effluent, with two more lying on top of it. Three of Wyatt's cows were also down. The driver unsuccessfully tried to get them to stand. The other animals were highly distressed.
When the driver stopped again at Klondike Corner, a further six of Wyatt's cows had gone down so he sought advice from management and was directed to travel to Cora Lynn Station, where cattle yards were available. The truck was unloaded and the dead cow removed before the manager of Cora Lyn Station shot two of Wyatt's animals, one with a broken leg, and the other a dislocated shoulder.
The station manager considered the cows to be in the worst condition he had seen in his life.
The driver was then directed to continue to Belfast, where one animal was unable to stand and was immediately euthanised in the truck by the freezing works stockman. A veterinarian assessing the 'body condition scoring' of the cows found that Dennehy's were skinny and less than ideal.
Wyatt's were worse, one unable to support its own weight and was immediately euthanised. The post-mortem of Wyatt's cows showed the animals had no fat reserve and should not have been transported.
Judge Saunders said he accepted that Dennehy was a good and caring farmer who did not deserve the stigma of a conviction for animal abuse.
Farmers received $300 to $500 for each beast sent for slaughter, depending on their weight and condition, and it was in their best interests to see that the stock got there fit and well.
Had Dennehy's stock gone to Hokitika, as planned, they would not have suffered any distress, the judge said.