Catriona MacLennan: Goats are not captive lawnmowers

Image / iStock
Image / iStock

If you take your dog walking on Meola Reef in Point Chevalier, you might occasionally encounter Masport the goat also out for a walk.

Masport is one of the luckier goats in New Zealand: he gets exercise and a change of scenery.

Traditionally, however, we've treated goats basically as lawnmowers rather than living beings, and thought it was acceptable to leave them permanently tethered on the side of the road.

Many goats spend their entire lives on chains or ropes, able to move only a short distance and with no company. Their diets are very restricted and they may either have inadequate shelter, or no protection at all from the elements.

The Animal Welfare Act requires people in charge of animals to ensure their physical, health and behavioural needs are met, in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge. Physical, health and behavioural needs are defined as;

• Proper and sufficient food
• Proper and sufficient water
• Adequate shelter
• Opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour
• Physical handling in a manner that minimises the likelihood of unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress
• Protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, any significant injury or disease.

People who tether goats are not complying with a single one of these needs. Goats require a wide variety of vegetation in their diets and will not be properly nourished if they eat only grass. Ruminants need bulky feed for their digestive systems to work properly, and should have hay and salt every day.

Goats have thin skins, with very little fat below the skin, meaning they do not like getting wet and are highly susceptible to chills. Often they are not adequately sheltered in the basic, metal structures provided for them. The situation is even worse for those animals provided with no shelter at all.

Goats are intelligent herd animals who need companionship. Lone, tethered goats cannot display normal patterns of behaviour as they lack company and their movement is restricted.

Animals living on the roadside are vulnerable to attack by dogs or people, as well as to being run over by cars. Some goats die of neglect or strangle in their tethers. Other freeze to die or, in summer, may die of heat exhaustion. If goats are permanently chained, the chain can grow into their neck and embed itself in their flesh.

New Zealand had the chance in 2012 to improve the lives of goats by banning tethering, but chose not to do so. The Animal Welfare (Goats) Code of Welfare 2012 instead provided that goats restrained by tethering must be placid and trained to the conditions; have constant access to palatable water, sufficient food and effective shelter; be able to move without undue hindrance; and be inspected at least once every 12 hours.

The code also said kids, sick goats and pregnant or nursing does must not be tethered. Tethers used on goats on roadside verges must prevent goats from getting into the path of vehicles.

Does anyone believe this actually happens? The reality is that many goats are placed on chains or ropes and forgotten.

The code itself states that best practice is for goats to be kept in herds or at least with one social companion and that "Goats should not be tethered as they are social animals." If best practice is for goats not to be tethered, why is there a minimum standard permitting tethering ?

Last year, a petition was presented to Parliament calling for a ban on goat tethering. Some MPs smirked or laughed openly as the petition was read in the House. The petition was referred to the Primary Production Committee, which sought input from the Ministry for Primary Industries. The ministry advised that it had investigated 38 complaints about goat welfare between 2013 and 2015, but had not considered any matter sufficiently serious to warrant a prosecution. This was despite the fact that the complaints repeatedly recorded that animals were skinny, dead, or unable to bear weight on both forelegs.

The committee decided to take no action on the petition.

And, now, it seems that a third chance to improve goat welfare is to be squandered.

Parliament in 2015 passed new laws to update legal protections for animals. Regulations now need to be made to fill in the detail of the new law and spell out exactly what practices are acceptable in dealing with animals.

The Ministry for Primary Industries on April 14 released draft regulations for consultation, seeking submissions by May 19.

Unfortunately, the draft regulations continue the same failure to provide for goat welfare by prohibiting tethering. Instead, they propose that the regulations state that "Tethered goats much have constant access to food, water, and shelter."

The draft goes on to say that tethering is an "identified area of frequent non-compliance" and that "Current responses appear ineffective at deterring frequent offending."

In addition, the draft records that "On average 50 complaints a year are identified relating to tethered goats, making up 25% of all goat complaints." This is a far higher complaints investigation figure than the statistic provided to the Primary Production Committee.

If it is clear that goat tethering is not best practice and that intended safeguards are flouted, why does New Zealand not ban tethering? An outright ban would send a clear message about how goat welfare can best be protected.

Catriona MacLennan is a barrister and journalist and the convenor of Animal Agenda Aotearoa.

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