A North Otago dairy farmer has been acquitted of charges he ill-treated hundreds of cows and calves.
Anthony James Lauren, 51, formerly of Kurow in North Otago, was today acquitted of six charges of ill-treating 341 cows and calves on Mt Belle Farm, which he was leasing in 2009.
In dismissing the charges Judge Joanna Maze, at the Oamaru District Court, said the defendant had taken all practical steps to look after the animals and had engaged, instructed and paid a farm contractor care for the cattle.
The defence counsel claimed the wrong person had been charged.
Lauren was leasing the property where neighbours found a number of dead and dying animals in the middle of winter on a remote part of the farm.
MAF and a vet were called, and 143 dead cows and calves were discovered.
Another 13 cows and calves had to be destroyed and a further 185 calves were found to be starving.
Lauren said he and his partner had initially looked after the calves, travelling up from Oamaru every day.
The pair then moved to Timaru in May that year to a sharemilker's job, which was more than an hours' drive away from the Mt Belle farm.
He said he had employed Kurow contractor Simon Johnston to look after calves on the low country section of the farm and had later added the care of cows and calves on the hill block to Mr Johnston's duties.
Mr Lauren said he had paid Mr Johnston for 81 hours for feeding out hay and looking after livestock in June 2009 on the farm.
In his evidence at the March hearing Mr Johnston said he had been unaware that there were calves on the hill block or that he was expected to look after any stock on that part of the property.
A vet told the court the cows and calves left to starve to death on the farm had suffered a prolonged period of pain and distress during the cold weeks of winter, describing it as ill-treatment of animals on a large scale.
Defence counsel David Campbell said it was his view that the wrong person had been charged over the deaths of the cattle. He said Lauren's company had employed the contractor and it was the company, if not the contractor, rather than the defendant who should have been charged.