Tatura farmer appeals jail sentence over animal cruelty

By Monique Preston

A Tatura farmer charged with animal cruelty was on Friday sentenced to two months and 25 days in prison and fined $10 000, but he almost immediately appealed the sentence.

John Hall, 67, was also disqualified from being in charge of farm animals for 10 years.

Hall pleaded guilty in Shepparton Magistrates’ Court to one cruelty charge, five aggravated cruelty charges and one of failing to comply with a notice.

The animal cruelty charge relates to failing to provide the animals with proper and sufficient food.

The aggravated animal cruelty charges are for acts of cruelty on an animal that resulted in the death of the animal, and four counts of cruelty on an animal which resulted in the serious disablement of the animal.

Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions prosecutor Laura Krumins told the court a veterinarian visited the Tatura property on February 11 last year as part of a prior court order from December 2017 that requires a vet to report every three months on the health and welfare of the farm animals.

A report from that visit showed there were 106 dairy and 99 beef cattle.

The cows were assessed as having a body condition score — which is a system of estimating the body condition of cattle based on healthy body fat and muscle — of between 3.5 and 4.5 out of a possible score of eight.

Mrs Krumins said on March 26, a Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions district veterinary officer and an animal health officer found a recumbent cow — one that was lying down and not able to rise by itself.

Its breathing was shallow, it was unable to move its head and the skin around her eye was missing, Mrs Krumins said.

The court heard the cow died within minutes of their arrival.

Hall told the officers he believed the cow was already dead.

The court heard the cow had a high level of intestinal worms – almost six times the level for which treatment was usually recommended.

A calf was also found on the same day which was blind in both eyes from pink eye.

When the officers then inspected the cattle on one part of Hall’s property, they found three recumbent cows and another that only stood after vets took blood and faecal samples, Mrs Krumins said.

All four cows were emaciated.

The officers issued a notice for Hall to provide the four cows and calf with vet care.

The court was told the following day a vet observed five recumbent cows in a paddock by themselves. One of the cows rose to her feet, but two of the remaining four were identified as the ones observed by vets the previous day, while two were newly recumbent, Mrs Krumins said.

The vet determined all four could not get up as they were too weak due to poor nutrition, and one had a high worm count.

The four cows, as well as the blind calf discovered the day prior, had to be put down.

Mrs Krumins said on April 2, officers ordered Hall to segregate the cattle which had a body condition score of three or below, but found he did not do so correctly.

On April 8, yet another cow had to be euthanased after she was unable to lift her head or stand. It was determined the cow had several internal parasites and had had little food or water in the preceding days, Mrs Krumins said.

The court was told during further inspections during April, no hay was visible on the property and the cattle had no grazeable feed in the paddocks.

A cattle assessment at the property on May 24 found all but one of the 156 cows assessed had a body condition score of between one and three.

Dairy Australia considers a body condition score between three and six to be healthy.

A visit on May 30 found another emaciated cow that didn’t even try to stand, and which had to be put down.

Hall’s solicitor Emma King said her client had reduced his herd to 50 head from about 200.

She told the court how Hall had sold his water rights to enable him to buy out his siblings’ share of the farm after their mother died in 2006.

He also lost money in the Banksia Financial Group collapse and had to sell more of his water rights.

“The feed he was able to source was low and hard to come by,” Ms King said.

The prosecutor asked for Hall be disqualified from having animals on his property.

“A message needs to be sent to the accused and the community that animal welfare is important,” Mrs Krumins said.

Ms King said if this happened, Hall would de-stock and change to cropping.

A date for Hall’s appeal had not yet been set.