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A G Morton, District Veterinarian, Hume Livestock Health and Pest Authority

Posted Flock & Herd March 2012

After 35 years it still amazes me how long (10 years in this case) neighbours will tolerate welfare or stock disease problems before bringing the issue to anyone's attention. People think LHPA & RSPCA have a crystal ball to find these problems. Once they lodge a complaint neighbours may expect instant action and resolution. After bottling up their frustrations and anger for years they often are really worked up!

Image of bare paddock
Drought conditions with no supplementary feeding. Animals are rapidly losing weight.

I received a complaint re strays, lice and animal welfare in March 2007.

30 March 2007. A Ranger visit confirms strays, lice and potential animal welfare problems. The ranger documented his observations. A visit by RSPCA confirms paddock feed is exhausted, no feed on hand, stock generally in saleable condition.

I also visit at that time and find that the manager is old (87), ill, polite, fiercely independent, and politely unco-operative. There is no previous history of breaches. This is an Estate! The 87 year old gentleman and his sister live on the property; a younger brother lives elsewhere. The 87 year old dominates the rest of the family!

A major animal welfare problem quickly develops. There are dead sheep, emaciated sheep, dying sheep, lice infestation and a breach of the Stock Diseases Act re straying lice infested sheep.

It is less than three years since the OJD program finished so there is a great reluctance to use regulation; we are dealing with an ill 87 year old with no previous history of offences. Thus a warning letter was issued on 11.04.2007 re: lice in straying sheep and together with the RSPCA we continued thereafter seeking co-operation rather than resort to penalty notices or prosecution.

Relevant Legislation & Policy

Stock Diseases Act, Section 20D( Straying Stock). 20(D)(2) If infected stock are found straying anywhere, the owner of the stock and the person from whose charge the stock have strayed are both guilty of an offence. Max penalty: 100 penalty units =$11,000 . Penalty notice $550.00


The procedure document that covers our intervention is CIRCULAR NO: AI 2002/99


Ongoing Problems - A timeline of subsequent events

12 April 2007: RSPCA visits. The owner's strategy is 'waiting for rain'

24 April 2007: I visit the property with the RSPCA inspector every paddock has dead sheep, long tailed sheep, emaciated sheep & most sheep have fleece derangement. There is a lack of feed on hand, no grain feed out trailer and no small auger to get grain out of silos if it is purchased. Given the circumstances the RSPCA Inspector is doing his utmost to get a negotiated solution rather than proceed with a prosecution.

01 May 2007: A joint visit with RSPCA, DPI, RLPB. All but one paddock <50kg DM/ha (sic). The corn 'hay' purchased is actually corn baled after the cobs have been stripped had an ME 4.6 MJ.ME/kg DM, CP 5%, digestibility 37%.Adult dry sheep will starve to death on this low energy ration in bare paddocks.

PROGRAZE gives benchmarks for temperate pastures:

The minimum herbage mass kg green DM/ha) to maintain satisfactory production levels in dry sheep is:

Table of digestibility

If there is abundant dry feed PROGRAZE suggests it will maintain dry stock if 55 - 60% digestibility with an ME 7.4 -8.2 MJ.ME/kg DM but weight loss is likely when digestibility falls to 50-55% with an ME of 6.5 -7.4 MJ.ME/kg DM.

A benchmark for a rough assessment is the excellent DPI publication Managing Drought October 2005, page 78, appendix 1 where the most likely ME for pasture hay (mostly grass) is 8.3. What this means is adult sheep fed ad lib grassy hay will gain a little bit of weight; weaners will lose weight on the same feed. I find this a useful starting point when discussing starvation problems.

We recommended better hay, get stock into 2-3 paddocks, check daily. I also suggested getting a neighbour to broadcast lupin so the sheep had a safe high energy (likely ME 13 MJ.ME/kg) feed supplement. 500 g/head/day lupins would provide maintenance for a 45 kg sheep. There was no equipment to enable cereal grain feeding. The Graz Feed program calculates 400g/head/day lupins plus 600 g/head/day corn hay would have given a negligible weight gain of 1g per day. The corn hay was of such low value that even a high energy/protein supplement like lupins had minimal effect on improving its digestibility. We all liaised with potential feed suppliers as we tried to get a negotiated solution and adequate feed.

09 May 2007: RSPCA visited and reported there was a green pick and the owner had ignored our advice re hay, lupins and confinement.

16 May 2007 I did a drive by inspection. There was a green pick and corn straw available. I noted strays with fleece derangement; this triggered written warning (no. 2) re lice and strays. In retrospect it should have resulted in a penalty notice.

21 May 2007 RSPCA - Sheep surviving on green pick and corn straw. Remarkable given the Graz Feed figures.

28 July 2007 RSPCA - OK but concerned with potential problems

14 September 2007 LHPA - Paddock feed supply will soon run out. The EI outbreak is a distraction with the increased workload at the office and multiple placements for all our AH staff at EMAI.

27 September 2007 LHPA/RSPCA - Sheep have crutch stain/dags crutching overdue as owner injured (still crutching at 87)

28 September 2007 - shearer advises he will crutch next week.

Dec 2007 - shorn

29 Feb 2008 - Complaint re strays

05 March 2008 Ranger - Sheep shorn but not dipped, feed running out, some paddocks have feed & no sheep but inadequate boundary fencing

17 April 2008 LHPA/RSPCA/DPI - Some sheep 'dipped' with fire fighter, some have not been shorn. Owner refuses to employ a fencing contractor. Strays and multiple animal welfare issues. Advised further deaths would lead to charge of 'aggravated cruelty'.

Image of man holding sheep marked 1
DPI Livestock Officer Geoff Casburn assists emaciated sheep found down unable to rise. The wool hides the emaciated state of the sheep; the crows have pecked its eye while recumbent.

23 April 2008 DPI/RSPCA - Pasture exhausted, some hay fed, owner says sheep will be sold. Sheep weak and poor.

28 April 2008 - a relation of the owner calls and reports major welfare problem, sheep are weak and dying. Canola hay purchased. Alleged that the sheep lice problem has been present for 10 years!!!!

29 April 2008 RSPCA - Confirms animal welfare (will prosecute) and strays. I issue warning letter (no.3) re lice infected strays 17.04.09 & 29.04.09 to all three members of the estate in the mistaken hope that this will trigger adequate action.

Image of thin dead sheep marked 6
Typical sheep starvation case. Note emaciation and piles of faeces passed while recumbent plus terminal paddling. Blood is from bullet used to euthanize. Note all cases photographed or videoed by the RSPCA are identified with a spray mark number which we both use in our reports.

05 May 2008 - 400 sheep have gone to slaughter. We believe we are starting to get a result from our negotiations and letter to all the members of the estate.

09 May 2008 Ranger/RSPCA - Permit to move lice infested sheep issued re walking between properties. RSPCA destroys 15 sheep

27 June 2008 - Agent has sold 600-700 sheep but he can't get owner to sell the rest. We had been liaising with the agent for a considerable time as part of our softly/softly approach.

27 June 2008 - more strays. Advice from legal department re responsibilities in an estate for the issue of a penalty notice

27 June 2008 DV/Ranger - Ongoing problems, owner not at home

25 July 2008 DV/Ranger - I conducted a formal interview, $550.00 penalty notice issued. He finally realised the game was over and agreed to a family conference.

Problem solved

01 August 2008 DV/DPI/RSPCA - Family conference- all three realise their liability re SDA & POCTA. 'Junior members' become empowered. Decide all sheep will go or be destroyed

11 August 2008 - Approx 100 unsaleable sheep/lambs destroyed with written permission. Balance trucked to abattoirs 12.08.2008.

What do I learn from this?

Animal welfare cases can be incredibly time consuming and frustrating.

There is a good reason why the suggested practice for SDA offences is generally one warning, then a penalty notice then a prosecution.

I let the OJD backlash re regulation, EI workload and farmers age and illness override my normal judgement.

Similarly the RSPCA officer who is an excellent negotiator decided in future cases to initiate legal action earlier.

The penalty notice worked and I should have issued it earlier! WIN/WIN is a very desirable outcome and a worthwhile aim initially but sometimes 'NO DEAL' has to be considered and regulation used.

Image of bare paddock


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