A farmer, charged with ill-treating cows and calves, has blamed an employee for allowing them to starve to death.

The employee has previously said he thought his duties applied to only part of the farm.

Athony James Lauren, 51, faces six charges of ill-treating cows and calves on Mt Belle Farm near Kurow, which he was leasing.

In 2009, 143 dead cows and calves were discovered by neighbours on the property who then called MAF and a vet.


Another 13 cows and calves had to be destroyed and a further 185 calves were also found to be starving. The starving and dead animals were discovered between May 12 and July 28, during the coldest part of winter in North Otago.

The case was adjourned in March and resumed in the District Court at Timaru today (Mon) before Judge Joana Maze.

Mr Lauren said the calves were about 10-months-old when purchased and were lighter than would have been expected of calves of that age. He said his partner had initially looked after the calves, travelling up from Oamaru every day, but moved to Timaru in May to take up a sharemilking job.

A man he had known for several years, Simon Johnstone, was employed to look after the livestock at Mt Bell.

Mr Lauren's partner, Sally Reeves, said the calves had been put on the flat part of the farm until early May when they were moved to another part of the farm, called the bull block, for about three weeks. The calves were then put on the hill block which had been closed up for a year and there was "plenty of grass''.

Ms Reeves said she had instructed Mr Johnson take care of the stock on Mt Belle farm. This included feeding and moving calves on the flat part of the farm and, once a week, inspecting the stock on the hill block.

She said she had intended to go to Mt Belle Farm in June and inspect the stock on the hill block but Mr Johnson had told her "not to bother'' as he was going up to check on them.

She said she expected Mr Johnson to call her if there was a problem with the stock but no calls were ever received.

A daughter of the property owners, Christine Watherston, who works at an Oamaru vet clinic, said she had not been aware of livestock on the hill block, where the dead animals were found. Ms Watherston said when she had become aware of the poor condition of animals on the low country she called the vet clinic in Oamaru and sought permission to enter the property.

Ms Watherston said it was only when she went onto the farm that she found there were cows and calves on the hill block and many were dead.

She said a staff member on the farm had told her he had been employed to feed cows and calves on part of the farm but no mention was made of feeding stock on the hill block.

In his evidence at the March hearing, Mr Johnstone 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.

The defence will continue its opening address tomorrow.