A former Westport dairy farm manager who admitted his guilt to the "sadistic" ill- treatment of hundreds of dairy cows was yesterday jailed for four and half years.

Michael James Whitelock, 28, shot one cow in the leg, dumped another cow still alive in an offal pit, and broke the tails of hundreds of others.

In the Greymouth District Court yesterday Whitelock was jailed on three charges each of wilfully ill-treating an animal, one of reckless ill-treatment, one charge of unlawful possession of a firearm, two of possessing a firearm without a licence, one of possession of explosives and another of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

While employed as a dairy unit manager at the Landcorp Totara farm at Cape Foulwind, Whitelock broke the tails of 152 cows and 57 heifers, and subsequently failed to provide adequate treatment for their injuries.

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He and three other farm employees shot one cow in the leg and beat another. Whitelock also shot another cow in an attempt to try to euthanise it, and then dumped it in the offal pit without making sure it was dead.

In jailing Whitelock, Judge Stephen O'Driscoll said the offending was at the higher end of the scale because of the number of animals involved and the variety of ways in which the animals were mistreated. He also denounced the "sadistic behaviour" that Whitelock had shown towards the animals.

"You were engaged in a culture of cruelty on that farm. Whatever the pressure or stress you may have been under, there is no excuse or explanation for that conduct."

Earlier in proceedings, defence lawyer Richard Maze argued that Whitelock had been out of his depth as manager of the farm as a previous employer had advised Landcorp that he was not ready for the job of dairy manager at the farm, without being given a significant level of support.

Whitelock was not given that support, Mr Maze said, and that he sometimes working from 4am until midnight.

He "worked himself into an utter hole, he simply lost the ability to cope", Mr Maze said.

He claimed that lack of proper support showed a "degree of systematic failure by Landcorp". However, Judge O'Driscoll said the offending was no one else's fault but Whitelock's.

"Many people go to work and are under stress. I don't think your reaction could be placed in any way at the fault of Landcorp. Nor could it be said that lack of supervision caused or contributed to that conduct. You were placed in a position of trust and you abused that trust."

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Judge O'Driscoll said the "use of staff to perpetuate violence to animals" and the "cruel and gratuitous violence undertaken on some of these animals" were aggravating factors.

Whitelock also pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a shotgun, a .243 and a .22 rifle, for which he had no licences, alongside .243 ammunition, which were found stashed in his children's bedroom, in Timaru.

He was also charged with trying to persuade a witness to give a false statement to investigators.

GRS pd