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Whakatane man who starved 20 calves to death sentenced

Tuesday, 6 October, 2015

When 20 of his 28 calves died, Gareth Wordsworth just assumed they were dying of scours (diarrhoea) – but they were actually dying of starvation.

Wordsworth, 42, was convicted on October 7 in the Whakatane District Court on charges of failing to provide the calves with proper and sufficient food and water, and of failing to protect the calves from and rapidly diagnose any significant injury or disease. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment and/or a $50,000 fine.

He was sentenced to 100 hours of community work, disqualified from owning livestock animals for 2 years, and ordered to pay $1371.09 in reparations and $150 in court costs.

“This is a case of outrageous neglect. That anyone could idly stand by and do nothing while 20 animals died unnecessarily simply beggars belief,” says Ric Odom, CEO of the Royal New Zealand SPCA.

The plight of Wordsworth’s calves first came to the attention of the SPCA on 17 November 2014 when an SPCA Inspector noticed one dead calf and eight calves in poor condition at a property in Ohaua Road, Tawera, about 27km south of Whakatane.

On 18 November the Inspector returned with two veterinarians to examine the calves. The defendant was not at home. All eight live calves had evidence of scours (diarrhoea) with faeces caked to their tails, and appeared to be on a grass-only diet.

Three of the eight calves were assessed to be very small, emaciated, and weak, were not grazing, and were far too young to be weaned onto grass. The remaining five calves were in better condition, with some rumen development (the part of the digestive tract that enables ruminant animals to digest grass), but were still below weight for weaned calves.

The veterinarian determined that unless the three emaciated calves were given milk within 24 hours they would die. An official notice was issued to the defendant instructing him to provide milk to the three calves urgently and by 19 November 2014.

Later that day the defendant telephoned the Inspector and told her he would not be complying with the notice and warned her to stay away from his property or “things would get nasty”.

The Inspector returned that same day and took possession of the three emaciated calves for urgent veterinary attention. When examined, the calves were found to weigh between 27.35kg and 30.6kg, less than half of the recommended weaning weight of 65 to 85kg.

One calf was euthanised immediately as it was near death. The other two calves died within 48 hours.

Blood and fecal testing revealed that one calf had a salmonella infection and another had a yersinia pseudotuberculosis infection (which causes tuberculosis-like symptoms in animals). Both calves were anaemic and had theileria parasites present in their blood. The remaining calf was shedding coccidian parasites.

The defendant admitted under caution that he had purchased 33 four- to eight-day-old calves in September 2014. He had sold five and kept the remaining 28, of which 20 had died. He claimed he had fed them milk for around eights weeks and that they had been on grass for around a week prior to the intervention of the SPCA. He hadn’t sought veterinary treatment for any of the calves – he just assumed they were dying of scours.

“The SPCA hopes that this sentence sends a clear message to others in the farming community,” says Ric Odom, CEO of the Royal New Zealand SPCA. “If your animals are dying it is your responsibility to call in the vet. If you fail to do so, we will hold you accountable.”