Tokoroa dairy farmer fined $17,500 for neglecting yearlings that died

A Tokoroa farmer who ignored the welfare of about 110 young cows because they wouldn’t bring in financial return has been fined $17,500 and warned he may never own animals again.

The veterinarian who assessed the animals said they were in the worst state of malnourishment he had seen in his career. They were infested with parasites and 11 died.

Two of the dead yearlings, cows approaching a year old, were half the weight they should have been.

Tokoroa dairy farmer Rodney Grant Nicol, 61, was sentenced in the Tokoroa District Court last month and the details of his offending have just been made available to the Rotorua Daily Post.

The Ministry of Primary Industries would not provide images relating to the case to the Rotorua Daily Post as they were too graphic.

Nicol faced 11 charges of recklessly ill-treating a yearling and one charge each of failing to comply with a notice, failing to protect a mob of yearlings from parasites, failing to treat them for parasites and failing to ensure they received proper and sufficient food.

On August 10 last year, a ministry animal welfare inspector went to Nicol’s 299-hectare Tokoroa daily farm after a call from a concerned member of the public.

There were 300 cows and 110 yearlings on the farm. The inspector found seven dead yearlings and a lethargic and skinny yearling thought to be suffering from parasites.

The dead animals had died over a few weeks and Nicol believed they had died of cooperia worm, according to the summary.

“He knew some of them needed a drench but he had neglected them.”

The inspector gave Nicol nine days to drench the yearlings but after a second complaint, discovered on August 22 that Nicol had only drenched three-quarters of the animals.

The inspector found one more dead yearling and two that had to be euthanised.

One of them was “recumbent and non-responsive, emaciated and extremely undersize, dehydrated and severely hypothermic”.

The other was stuck in a fence too weak to move.

“The veterinarian stated that he had not encountered young stock in such a state of malnourishment in his career to date,” the summary of facts said.

The vet estimated the two yearlings were about 80kg to 100kg, or one-third to half the weight they should have been.

Dairy NZ guidelines showed yearlings of that age and breed should have weighed between 200 and 250kg.

The already dead yearling was believed to have died from worm burden parasites and had no surplus body fat.

“When questioned as to whether it had died due to not being drenched within the specified timeframe, the defendant stated that that’s just the $24,000 question, but potentially yes.”

The inspector and vet also found a fourth yearling, which was thin, dehydrated and hypothermic.

It had fallen and was unable to right itself and tests found enough parasites in a faecal egg count to cause significant impairment and distress.

Euthanasia was initially recommended but Nicol decided to treat the yearling.

Four days later on August 26 the inspector visited again after a third complaint and found the yearling dead not far from where it was last seen.

According to the summary, Nicol said he had treated it but not moved it to provide shelter “as he didn’t have a trailer or the time to move it”.

“He left it in the paddock to see if it would survive. A couple of days later a heavy rainstorm came through and it had died.”

Tests on the two euthanised cows and the cow found on August 26 showed the level of parasites to be “moderate to extreme”.

Overall the vet found the whole herd was “extremely undergrown and under conditioned” and about the size of 4- to 5-month-old calves.

“The yearlings were about 50 per cent or less of their expected body weight and emaciated.”

According to the summary Nicol was aware the yearlings were in a poor condition but did not prioritise their wellbeing as grazing them for no income was “a burden”.

“He knew the yearlings needed attention but chose to neglect them and focus on the milking cows as these are what would bring in a financial return.”

He said he had not drenched all the yearlings because the weather was too wet and he did not want to go to the extra expense of buying new drench.

Nicol has previously appeared before the courts on an animal welfare charge – involving failure to ensure reasonable treatment of a dairy cow with a broken leg – to which he pleaded guilty.

During sentencing relating to the yearlings in the Tokoroa District Court on June 3, Nicol was warned he could be disqualified from farming if he appeared on animal welfare charges again.

Regional manager of animal welfare and NAIT compliance Brendon Mikkelsen said the ministry would hold people to account if it found evidence of deliberate cruelty to animals.

“Most farmers do the right thing for all of their animals, including ensuring that they have sufficient food and are being treated for common conditions such as parasites.”

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