Firm, managers fined over hundreds of calf deaths

VetEnt GC Ltd - formerly known as GrazCare Ltd - and former general manager Mark James Harrison...
VetEnt GC Ltd - formerly known as GrazCare Ltd - and former general manager Mark James Harrison were sentenced in the Invercargill District Court this week. Photo: ODT files

A grazing and calf rearing company has been fined after 457 calves died due to poor conditions and inadequate care.

VetEnt GC Ltd - formerly known as GrazCare Ltd - and former general manager Mark James Harrison were sentenced in the Invercargill District Court on Tuesday by Judge John Brandts-Giesen after they plead guilty to a representative charge of ill-treatment of animals under the Animal Welfare Act.

The company was fined $63,000 and Harrison $19,000.

At a separate sentencing, the company’s former Otago/Southland operations manager Christopher Douglas Wilson was fined $13,000.

The judge said at Tuesday’s sentencing that although the 457 calves died because of "poor conditions and inadequate care", there was no suggestion the offences were deliberate.

"This was strict liability offences and it did not suggest for a minute that the offences were committed deliberately."

Harrison’s lawyer said the whole situation had had a great impact on his client, and Harrison was embarrassed as he had been involved in the dairy industry for his whole life.

"He is genuinely and rightly upset and sorry for what happened in this case. It is clear no-one set out to cause harm to these animals. It was a series of failures across the board that unfortunately should have been avoidable."

The Ministry for Primary Industries prosecution followed an investigation into a calf rearing operation involving raising up to 1800 animals at an Invercargill farm in 2017.

The court found the company, along with Wilson and Harrison, responsible for the deaths of 457 calves out of 1769 that were sent to the farm between August and October that year.

MPI compliance services director Gary Orr said the young and vulnerable animals were not provided with the care they needed and suffered from diseases that were preventable.

"There quite simply is not any excuse for this kind of neglect."

He said VetEnt GC sourced calves and paid calf rearers to increase their weight to 100kg.

In 2017, the company contracted a calf rearing farmer to do that over three months.

Before that operation began, concerns about the farm facilities, such as the size, construction and lack of quarantine pens, were raised with Harrison and Wilson by independent specialists who inspected the set-up.

However, those concerns were not properly addressed.

"They had a responsibility to these young and vulnerable animals to ensure their welfare needs were met and they failed them."

As the animals arrived, and the farm became more crowded, disease outbreaks occurred.

An attending veterinarian raised concerns about a rotavirus and scours problem at the farm with Wilson and Harrison and advised them to stop sending calves until the situation was under control.

While VetEnt GC did initially follow that advice, after a short time it resumed sending calves.

"They had the information they needed to do right by these animals and did not act," Mr Orr said.

luisa.girao@odt.co.nz