28 Feb 2024

85-year-old Kaipara farmer fined for neglect of animals that had to be euthanised

7:42 am on 28 February 2024

By Shannon Pitman, Open Justice reporter of NZ Herald

Cows grazing on grass. (File photo)

Joan Foster has been found guilty of the neglect of five animals and fined $12,000, plus veterinary costs of $1600 (file picture). Photo: 123rf

An elderly woman who has been farming all her life chose to ignore the obvious suffering of her livestock, with a judge sending a warning to other farmers in the same position - either retire from farming or get help.

Kaipara woman Joan Foster, 85, was responsible for around 60 livestock when a neighbour alerted the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) of cows that were in a state of distress on her 100ha farm.

The neighbour advised the Ministry there was a steer lying in the yard which was "barely alive."

MPI paid a visit to Foster's farm in November 2022 and, following an investigation, charged her with five counts of offences under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

The charges involved the neglect of five animals, including steers suffering from woody tongue, one with a facial infection and another with a club foot.

Despite clear signs of distress and chronic conditions, the animal's foot had swollen to six times its normal size, rendering it unable to walk properly.

Foster told MPI she had sought antibiotic treatment for one of the animals, and when it hadn't worked, she had decided to send it to the slaughterhouse but had not got around to doing so.

Four of the five animals had to be euthanised.

At sentencing in the Whangārei District Court, Foster's lawyer Nicole Dore said her client was deeply ashamed and normally had family members to assist her on the farm.

Judge Deidre Orchard said Foster had a long-term relationship with the local vet and could not understand why she had not contacted them.

"This is not something that occurred overnight. The animal was in great pain and distress, and while I've seen the explanation [of] the son not being available, there's no such explanation for the neighbour, who was available to call. All she had to do was pick up a phone and call a vet," Judge Orchard said.

Dore said although her client made some bad decisions at the time, there was the old saying, "Farmers don't retire."

Judge Orchard said it was important to send a message to other farmers they need a succession plan.

"Farmers need to plan for succession. It is important all farmers know that this is serious offending in my view, particularly the first two animals.

"Age has caught up with Mrs Foster, and she is making decisions she probably wouldn't have made when she was younger.

"It is important farmers recognise when they are approaching or have reached a position in lives where they are no longer capable of handling stock and take appropriate action so those risks are mitigated by taking on extra help, reducing stock or retiring from farming," Judge Orchard said.

Foster was convicted and fined $12,000, plus veterinary costs of $1600.

In the five years to 2023, MPI has laid charges under the Animal Welfare Act against 199 individuals and nine entities. Most were in Northland (56), followed by Waikato (39), Canterbury (19) and Manawatū-Whanganui (17).

* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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