The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry received almost 700 complaints about the mistreatment of livestock to November last year, resulting in more than 600 investigations.

MAF said prosecutions, of which there were two in 2009 and seven in 2008, are a last resort. The department generally focuses on educating and working with farmers.

To November last year, MAF had received 689 complaints about the mistreatment of animals, and investigated 615.

in 2008, there were 948 complaints in total, of which 824 were investigated.

SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger said there were more cases than MAF recorded.

She said there was a difference between wilful neglect and people going through hard times causing their stock to starve.

"It's a few that give a bad name to the rest," Ms Kippenberger said.

Stock starving jumped to the forefront of national interest last year after Crafar Farms, one of New Zealand's largest farming companies, was placed in receivership, owing around $200 million to its receivers.

This followed allegations of animal neglect after more than 100 calves were killed after being starved.

2009 PROSECUTIONS

A North Canterbury farmer, John Dalmer, was fined $17,500 and ordered to pay court and investigation costs of more than $60,000 for allowing his stock to suffer from starvation.

In July 2006 MAF and Animal Welfare visited the man's farm following a complaint about the lack of feed for nearly 4000 sheep. The investigator and farm consultants said the animals were "grossly underfed".

Four cattle and 380 sheep had to be euthanised to end their suffering.

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A Central Hawkes Bay farmer was fined $12,000, ordered to almost $10,000 in costs after a complaint about starving animals was received.

He was also disqualified from owning or controlling production animals for a minimum period of 10 years.

This followed a 2007 investigation by MAF and Animal Welfare which revealed deer and cattle in poor condition, grassless paddocks and no sign of supplementary feed.

Twelve dead deer were found around the property and there was no evidence of supplementary feed being provided, resulting in starving animals.