SAFE condemns appalling neglect of dairy cows

SAFE was appalled to learn of one of New Zealand’s most serious cases of systematic neglect of farmed animals this week.

At two farms operated by Invercargill-based Castlerock Dairies Ltd., a staggering 193 cows had to be euthanized, and another 761 required treatment. Almost 100 others had ingrown horns. More than 1,000 cows were affected, out of a population of approximately 4,000. 

Lameness, in particular, is a notorious welfare problem for dairy cows. It can cause severe pain and decreased ability to walk – which can affect a cow’s ability to feed, and to visit the milking shed. These in turn can result in under-nutrition, and swelling and inflammation of the udders, which can lead to mastitis and other diseases. The UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council – which advises its government – has described lameness as the “most important animal welfare problem for the dairy cow”. In-growing horns are also likely to cause substantial, ongoing pain and discomfort.

Both of these problems are largely preventable. Polled breeds of cattle which naturally lack horns are available, and lameness is largely caused by bad management – in this case, by allowing tracks to become potholed, and covered knee-deep with thick mud and excrement, through which these cows had to repeatedly walk.

Our Animal Welfare Act, and our Code of Welfare (Dairy Cattle), require farmers to properly care for their animals. Lameness is recognised as a painful condition, requiring “immediate and effective treatment”. The maximum available penalties under the Act are 12 months imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for individuals, and a $250,000 fine for corporations. 

In this case, the number of animals affected, and the level of neglect, were described as “unparalleled and unprecedented” by a senior attending veterinarian with over 18 years' experience. And yet, despite committing offences at the extreme end of the scale, the farmers responsible in this case each received only 275 hours of community work and a $10,000 fine plus costs. Far from being disqualified to work with animals, these men have gone on to work for other farms. The corporation received a $37,500 fine plus $11,500 costs – less than $50,000 in total.

This represents nothing short of a gross miscarriage of justice, for the animals this Act was designed to protect. Penalties a mere quarter or less of those available, for animal welfare offences at the most extreme end of the scale, clearly demonstrate that those of us who care about animals cannot rely on our legal system alone. 

Take Action

  • Take a stand against dairy cow abuse in your supermarket. Decrease the financial support for this industry, by eliminating dairy products from your diet. Our Eat Kind programme exists to advise and support you as you progress.
  • Write to your local newspaper and call your local talkback radio station, condemning the treatment of dairy cows. Remind listeners that in order to produce milk, around two million new-born ‘bobby’ calves are produced and slaughtered annually.
  • Join SAFE’s volunteer network, and participate in action to help animals, the environment and your local community.

16 August 2017