Waihi dairy farmers fined for 'significant under-feeding' of cattle, failing to comply with MPI

The couple faced 15 charges.
The couple faced 15 charges. Photo credit: Getty

A dairy farming couple in Waihi has been fined over $7500 for a range of animal welfare issues.

Gary Kester Mathers, 68, and Margaret Helen Mathers, 67, were sentenced in the Morrinsville District Court on Tuesday. Gary was fined $4000 and Margaret $3500, and the couple was ordered to pay $3273 in veterinarian costs.

The couple had earlier pleaded guilty to 15 charges between them, including failing to provide dairy cows with proper and sufficient food, ill-treatment of cows and failing to comply with the direction and advice of an animal welfare inspector from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

According to MPI, an inspector visited the couple's two dairy farms in July 2018 and had to euthanise a cow to end its suffering.

The couple received a formal warning, but another inspection in 2019 resulted in the euthanisation of an in-calf cow.

There was also significant underfeeding of animals on the couple's farm, the inspector found, with 30 dairy cows requiring urgent remedial care.

A farm consultant also made a number of visits in July 2019 and made recommendations around animal welfare to the couple, but these were not followed, MPI said. A subsequent visit by an inspector led to the discovery of a cow suffering eye cancer, which also had to be euthanised.

"The Mathers are hands-on owner operators. They work with these animals daily and should have been aware that many of them were in poor health," said Gray Harrison, MPI national manager, animal welfare and NAIT compliance group.

"They did not take opportunities to improve the situation despite warnings from MPI and advice from a farm consultant. If they’d acted earlier, we may have had a different outcome for these animals."

He said the sentence should "act as a warning" for people who neglect their responsibilities to animals.

On Wednesday animal rights group SAFE said MPI should have done more to improve the welfare of the animals on the farm. The group also said the penalty did not fit the seriousness of the crime.

"MPI knew about the suffering of those animals as early as July 2018 and did nothing to materially improve their welfare," said SAFE spokesperson Paris Waterworth.

"One animal left to suffer is one too many. The penalty does not fit the seriousness of this crime."

But Harrison rejected the claim that MPI didn't do enough.

"We note that all the offending, dating from 2018, was brought to the attention of the court," he told Newshub.

"Decisions on sentencing are for the courts alone to make. During the investigation of the complaints against the Mathers we used the powers available to us under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to direct the Mathers to make improvements to the health of the animals. This included formal warnings and directions as well as education.

"We reject the assertion that we did nothing to materially improve the animals' welfare. In fact, all the actions we undertook on the Mathers farm were done with the best interests of the animals in mind."