A dairy farmer’s slide into depression played a part in dozens of cows being left to die in paddocks and sheds on his property, while his wife failed to do enough to fix the problems she saw.
Ōpiki farmer Malcolm Wood gave his wife Cheryl a kiss before he was led to the Palmerston North District Court cells on Tuesday, having been sentenced to two years’ prison for 16 charges of animal ill-treatment and neglect.
Cheryl Wood was fined $30,000 and they have both been banned from owning or having authority over large animals for five years.
That means Cheryl Wood can still care for their flock of 20 hens.
Although Malcolm Wood was eligible for home detention, Judge David Smith said the scale of neglect meant prison was the only appropriate punishment.
Malcolm Wood has a 40-year history in dairy farming, leading to him running a 280-hectare farm at Ōpiki, with about 500 cattle.
He was the main worker, while Cheryl and their daughter would take care of the calves and milking.
They were warned by Ministry for Primary Industries inspectors in September 2015 after many cows were found in poor condition.
Malcolm Wood was specifically told to get a captive bolt used to euthanise animals, tidy up practices for feeding and calf care, and reduce stock rates to at least 420 animals.
He did none of those things, continuing to farm 500 cattle and having unacceptable feeding practices.
He also went against good practice and milked cows twice daily during winter.
The inspectors returned in August 2017 to check on the farm after receiving a complaint about his animals. Malcolm Wood said to them: “I wondered when you guys would be coming to see me” and “It won’t be pretty”.
The vast majority of the animals were in poor condition, showing obvious signs of distress and depression.
Calves were being fed cold milk, meaning they expended half their energy just to keep warm.
One was found lying in the back of a shed, unable to get up because it had a broken leg.
Another was sick, barely breathing and died before a vet could turn up to euthanise it.
There were cows with mastitis and discharge from their uteri, a bull that had dislocated its shoulder at least eight weeks earlier and cattle found lying dead in a paddock with one living animal, which had to be put down.
Fifty-one animals had either died or needed to be put down.
Malcolm Wood told the ministry he was getting around to calling a vet or getting someone to shoot the animals.
His depression had got the better of him and he thought about selling the farm, but thought he should see out the season.
The judge said it was not a situation where the Woods were making more money on the back of neglect.
“I see what occurred here is you trying to keep your head above water and failing to do so.”
The Woods were also ordered to pay $11,700 in costs.