A dairy farmer under huge financial pressure despite working 100-hour weeks has admitted breaking the tails of nearly 50 cows.

Jeffrey Antony Wright, 36, was working as manager of a large dairy farm at Queens Flat in North Otago when he failed to control his frustrations with his herd.

As a result of a complaint made by a member of the public, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff and veterinarians turned up at the farm on January 28, 2014, Christchurch District Court heard today.

At the afternoon milking, a vet examined the tails of all 1065 cows.

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They found several cows with broken tails, including eight that had been fractured in the past fortnight - three of which had compound fractures with either bone protruding through the skin or the skin having been ruptured at the fracture.

The vet concluded the injuries would've been "extremely painful" and "quite deliberate".
There was no indication that the animals had been treated by a vet or given pain relief.

"The level of pain from a broken tail is equivalent to having a person's fingers broken and interferes with the animal mating, defecation and swatting flies. It is an injury that requires veterinary care," the MPI summary of facts states.

Wright was spoken to by MPI officers where he was fully-cooperative, admitted his crimes, and "showed insight and remorse", the court heard.

He said he had been under "a huge amount of stress" and the past few years had been "very difficult within the industry".

Wright had been working 14-15 hours a day, seven days a week and was under immense monetary pressure, which he said led to an "inability to control his frustration" at the animals, the court heard.

He admitted two charges laid under the Animal Welfare Act, including wilfully ill-treating eight dairy cows by breaking their tails and recklessly ill-treating 40 more cows by breaking their tails.

MPI lawyer Grant Fletcher today accepted that Wright, a married father-of-four, was not a "cruel or sadistic man".

Defence counsel Simon Clay said Wright was immediately full of regret and remorse.

His financial situation was a major cause of the offending, he said.

Wright is still working on the farm but not is no longer in the dairy shed, the court heard.

Judge Tom Gilbert said the wilful ill-treatment charge was very serious. It carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail or a fine up to $100,000.

But he accepted Wright was "in every other respect a good person".

He said the starting point for sentencing would have to be one of imprisonment, but would consider an electronically-monitored sentence if a suitable address was found.

"Can you live with your mum?" Judge Gilbert asked Wright in the dock.

"It'd be better than jail time, for sure," he replied.

Wright will be sentenced on November 2.