More than 1000 cows on a large Taupo dairy farm were left dangerously thin, sick and "sad" after months of being underfed, a court has been told.
A trial began in the Rotorua District Court yesterday of five parties, who between them face 625 charges under the Animal Welfare Act of wilfully ill-treating animals and failing to meet their physical needs.
The accused are Southland-based dairy management company MilkPride, its directors Ross Cottier and Murray Flett, its general manager Craig Coote and employee Raymond Griffin, who managed the Taharua Farm near Taupo.
The farm was formerly owned by Crafar Farms. MilkPride brought the animals and plant in 2008 and entered into a 50/50 sharemilking agreement.
Rotorua Crown Prosecutor Fletcher Pilditch said the charges stemmed from a Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry investigation of the farm in October 2009.
Mr Pilditch said that on arrival, an inspector observed a number of cows he believed to be emaciated and suffering from infection. Over the next two days inspectors assessed the body condition of about 4000 cows.
The "two stripe" cows were considered in need of urgent attention while the "one stripe" cows also fell below acceptable industry standards and were deemed at risk.
The charges before the court relate to 1106 cows in these two categories. A number of other cows were so ill they had to be euthanised.
Mr Pilditch said there had been a drought in 2009 and a snowfall days before the inspection however previously healthy cows should have been able to cope with these events. It was clear the cows had been underfed for months, he said.
He said that in June 2009, PGG Wrightson valued the farm's 5706 cows at $2.15 million - substantially below the $9.1 million MilkPride paid for them just a year earlier.
"They [the valuers] identified a large number of cows in poor condition," he said, adding this was part of the reason for the reduced valuation.
He said the condition of the cows was communicated to MilkPride at the time.
Mr Pilditch said that during the October inspection, the cows displayed a number of symptoms in addition to their physical state.
He said they made minimal movements, were "sick and depressed ... sad" and had sunken eyes. Their hair was matted, they sat with all four legs under their bodies to preserve body heat and didn't have the strength to hold their heads up, he said.
Defence counsel did not make an opening statement but Mr Pilditch said he anticipated defence experts would contest the ministry's assessment of the cows' condition.
The trial, before Judge Phillip Cooper, is expected to last four weeks.