A farmer who left his herd of calves without food and water for months at his leased Papamoa farm neglected the animals so he could attend to his sick wife and newborn child.
Walter Pererika Rika, 62, was yesterday sentenced to 350 hours' community work and fined $750.
He pleaded guilty to 10 charges in Tauranga District Court and was also disqualified from engaging in animal husbandry for five years.
The charges included reckless ill-treatment of an animal and failing to comply with a written notice from an animal welfare inspector.
Prior to December 2012, Rika had been operating a dairy farm in the Mamaku region milking about 300 cows, later run by a farm manager, and also leased a grazing block of about 100 acres of Te Tumu Kaituna Trust land at Papamoa.
In June 2012, Rika, who lives in Ngongotaha, brought a number of calves to the Papamoa property and on October 15 a Ministry of Primary Industries animal welfare inspector visited the property.
The inspector found many of Rika's 73 calves were in poor to critical condition, there were also 15 carcasses on the property, and no water in the troughs.
There was also minimal grass cover, the gates to the paddocks were open and there were no cattle yards for drenching or other treatments.
Rika was issued with a notice to attend to seven of the animals and told not to transport them off the property without prior consent of a vet or animal welfare inspector.
He ignored the notice and took four calves by road to the Mamakus, three of which died or had to be put down.
The ministry sought a sentence of home detention, but defence lawyer Max Simpkins said Rika's offending occurred because he had turned his attention to the needs of his family of six children, particularly his sick wife and new baby, who was born prematurely.
Judge Ingram said it was not a case of "sheer neglect" or deliberate abuse towards the herd.
"It's fair to say this is one of the most unpleasant cases of its kind to reach the Tauranga court, but I have seen far worse cases ... and there are pretty substantial mitigating factors in Mr Rika's favour," the judge said.
Outside court, Rika said he would have defended the charges, but could not afford to do so.
Rika said the summary of facts painted a far worse picture than the situation was.
"It came down to two choices, the welfare of my sick wife and new baby and caring for our other children or the cows, and in my mind there was no contest," he said.
Ministry of Primary Industries spokesman Brendon Mikkelsen said he disputed Rika's attempts to play down the charges. The summary of facts and the photographs of calves spoke volumes.
• Six charges of reckless ill-treatment of an animal.
• Two charges of ill-treatment of an animal.
• One charge of failing to ensure the physical, health and behavioural needs of animals were met.
• One charge of failing to comply with a written notice from an animal welfare inspector.
For more articles from this region, go to BAY OF PLENTY TIMES