Cows and calves, which had been left to starve to death on a North Otago farm in 2009, had suffered a prolonged period of pain and distress during the cold weeks of winter in what a vet described as ill-treatment of animals on a large scale.

Oamaru vet Matthew O'Sullivan was giving evidence in the District Court at Timaru today where Kurow farmer Anthony James Lauren, 51, denied six charges of ill-treating the animals on Mt Belle Farm, which he was leasing.

Prosecutor Tim Gresson said, while he was aware that Lauren would claim he had delegated the management of the animals to another person, that had not absolved him of overall responsibility for their welfare.

Mr Gresson said a herd of 315 calves had been placed on the property in April 2009.


On July 23 that year a contractor working on the property to muster cattle from a hill block found a number of dead cows and other cows in an extremely emaciated condition.

He said the contractor had asked the defendant if he needed assistance with the cows but the offer was declined.

Mr Gresson said the contractor then called the property owner, whose daughter called Oamaru vet Matthew O'Sullivan.

An inspector from The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Maf) in Timaru, Kevin Burns was also called.

Between them they found 143 dead cows and calves and another 13 cows and calves which had to be destroyed. A further 185 calves were also found to be in distress through want of proper food and care. The distressed animals were discovered between May 12 and July 28, 2009.

Mr Gresson said, at that stage, Burns had not been aware that his appointment (as an Maf inspector) had not been properly authorised.

At a preliminary hearing the procedures used by Maf to appoint inspectors was challenged in the High Court, and Mr Gresson said the court had indicated that, while appointments were not properly authorised, the attendance of Mr Burns at the property had not been necessarily unlawful.

Judge Joanna Maze decided the evidence of Mr Burns was admissible but excluded him from the hearing of other evidence.

In his evidence Mr O'Sullivan said he had inspected the property and found the block where the animals had been held had been completely grazed out.

He said some animals had been incapable of rising to their feet for up to a week before they had died or had to be destroyed.

Mr O'Sullivan said some cows had become stuck in drains and had drowned.

An inspection of the feed reserves on the property showed there had been sufficient silage, baylage, hay, pasture and feed crop to last the surviving livestock for only 21 days to about August 23, with no possibility of new growth until mid-September.

He said, allowing for the animals which had died, there would only have been sufficient feed for about 15 days. Additional feed was usually available in the region and could have been delivered within 24 hours if required, he said.

Mr O'Sullivan said a number of clinical tests and post mortem examinations showed high levels of intestinal and lung worms, and that the condition of the cows and calves was due to starvation.

The case resumes tomorrow.