Danish Jersey cows at Svanhold Gods organic farm in Denmark. The cows are indoors to get ready for milking

New Zealand's dairy industry: The dark list of shame


New Zealand unfortunately has a dark ‘list of shame’ when it comes to the treatment of dairy cows.

Below is a list provided by Newsroom detailing the dark secrets of the New Zealand Dairy Industry. It paints a bleak track record of cruelty to farm animals. We're awaiting a formal response from the Ministry of Primary Industries. 

Please note, these details may be disturbing to some readers. 


  • February - Far North dairy farmer Alan Summers pleaded guilty to ill-treating an animal and a representative charge of ill-treating an animal after MAF officials removed 386 cows from his farm and took them to another farm, where 68 had to be shot immediately as they were close to starvation;
  • Lester Donald Reuben Johnstone of Maungatapere was fined $34,000 and banned from owning stock for five years after being convicted of animal cruelty. Earlier, in 1993, Johnstone was ordered to pay fines and costs of $1906 on one count of aggravated cruelty to a cow, three counts of neglecting an animal, two of keeping an animal alive when it was cruel to do so, and one of cruelly ill-treating an animal. In April 1997 Johnstone was fined $12,000 and disqualified from farming for two years after being convicted of cruelty and neglect (see also 2015 conviction);


  • November - Alan Summers was sentenced for breaching a court order relating to three previous offences concerning starving cows;


  • January - Rotorua farmer Mark Spitz pleaded guilty to five charges after hundreds of starving and dead cattle were found on his property. Spitz was visited in July 2007 by MAF after a complaint about dead and starving cattle. He was given written notice to improve animal welfare conditions. Further notices were issued when MAF visited the property again and found Spitz had done very little, if anything, to alleviate the growing concern about his animals; 


  • Lourens Erasmus broke 115 cows’ tails and beat cows repeatedly with steel milking cups and a three foot long steel bar. He was convicted and sentenced. The initial sentence was overturned on appeal and he was sentenced to jail;
  • February - a Dunedin farm labourer was convicted of ill-treatment of a calf hit in the face with steel pipe and blinded;
  • September - Tjeer Visser was sentenced for failing to meet cows’ physical and health needs, with more than 120 animals dying;
  • September - neglected cows found at Rotomanu had to be euthanised;
  • September - Waikato – 80 cows were left without water and inadequate food for four days. No charges were laid and the farmer was let off with a warning;
  • September - 180 cows found starving on the West Coast were euthanised;


  • February - Michael Jackson pleaded guilty to failing to alleviate pain or distress in 230 injured cows with twisted or broken tails;
  • August - Kevin Smith was convicted of breaking 154 cows’ tails and hitting cows with a pipe;
  • September - Canterbury dairy farmed Geoffrey Deal pleaded guilty to animal welfare offences after 70 per cent of his cows were found in poor condition;
  • September - dairy farmer Saul Beaumont pleaded guilty to breaking 46 cows’ tails. When a vet visited his farm in January 2103 and examined the herd of 500 cows, more than 200 had some degree of tail damage. The SPCA laid 46 charges against Beaumont of failing to prevent animal suffering. Beaumont was seen grabbing a cow’s tail and snapping it. He was told he would receive a written warning and that if he continued the behaviour he would be fired – an inadequate response to such deliberate cruelty. Several weeks later, fresh tail breaks were noticed and in January 2013 Beaumont was again seen breaking a cow’s tail;
  • October - herd manager Nathan Morunga was dismissed for cruelty to a cow;


  • August - the media reported that MPI was investigating an alleged animal neglect case on a dairy farm in Rodney. Several dairy cows were put down;
  • October - Stratford dairy farmer Timothy Gilbert was sentenced after pleading guilty to animal cruelty. An MPI inspector visited Gilbert’s farm and found 65 cows with maimed tails. Some animals had multiple breaks in their tails – injuries that take considerable force to inflict;


  • March - West Coast cattle farming father and son Robert and Jeremy Ussher were sentenced and banned from owning animals after 152 starving cows had to be euthanised on a West Coast farm. Robert Ussher was convicted on six charges of ill-treating animals and one of failing to supply sufficient feed. His son was sentenced on a representative charge of ill-treating animals and failing to supply sufficient feed. MPI said that it was one of the worst cases it had encountered;
  • April - Leeston dairy farmer Clyde McIntosh pleaded guilty to three charges under the Animal Welfare Act and his company, Riverbrae Dairy Farm Ltd, pleaded guilty to four charges, including recklessly ill-treating dairy cows. The charges arose after a member of the public reported seeing severely lame dairy cows. MPI District Compliance Manager Peter Hyde said the pain in the hooves of some of the cows was so severe they could not stand or walk to water troughs;
  • May - Lester Donald Reuben Johnstone was convicted of failing to ensure the physical and health needs of six calves were met. Johnstone was disqualified from owning stock for 20 years and fined. Two calves starved to death, one had to be put down and three were removed from the property to reduce their suffering. MPI staff paid four visits to the farm in 2014 to inspect skinny calves after a complaint. They found animal welfare issues, including a mob of skinny weaner calves in a paddock without grass or water, an emaciated young cow having difficulty standing, and two calves who had died of starvation. MPI staff several times directed Johnstone to provide better grazing and supplementary feed but he ignored them;
  • July - South Waikato dairy farmer Tony Clayton was convicted of the neglect and ill treatment of cows who became malnourished or starved to death. Clayton pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the physical, health and behavioural needs, or neglect, of animals in his care and reckless ill treatment of animals resulting in death. Five cows died of starvation as part of a mob of 19 cows confined to a paddock with little feed. A further seven cows died after being confined to a paddock with insufficient feed. The neglect charges related to 14 malnourished and diseased weaner calves in a group of 120 calves with insufficient feed;
  • September - an investigation was launched after a former Waikato farm worker allegedly mutilated his then-employers’ cows by severing the teats of 20 animals after a dispute with his employer; 
  • October - Michael Whitelock was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ jail and banned from owning animals for 10 years after pleading guilty to ill-treatment of animals. Whitelock was the dairy manager on a farm near Westport where he beat cows, broke their tails and shot them in the kneecaps. 152 cows and 57 heifers had their tails broken. Whitelock beat a cow with a fencing baton, resulting in a traumatic eye injury. When he failed to euthanise the animal, she was placed in the offal pit while still alive;
  • December - Taranaki farmer Rodney Wilson was sentenced for breaking 157 cows’ tails – the tails of more than half the cows in his dairy herd;


  • July - Taranaki contract milker Claudio Da Costa was sentenced for cutting the teats off 12 cows by placing rubber rings on them and slicing them off with scissors. He was fined $3750;
  • December - West Coast dairy farmer Warren Arthur McNabb was fined $15,000 and banned from any involvement with milking cows for six months after being convicted of reckless ill treatment of two dairy cows by breaking their tails and a further charge of failing to ensure that 210 cows with broken tails received treatment. 201 of the 446 milking cows on the farm had broken tails, with 20 of them having multiple breaks. None of the animals had received veterinary treatment for their injuries. A vet described the scale of the breakage as being symptomatic of prolonged animal abuse;


  • June 29 - Noel Pirika Erickson successfully appealed a prison sentence imposed after he was convicted on eight charges of abusing animals for mistreating 111 bobby calves at a slaughterhouse, including killing one in a way that meant the animal suffered unnecessarily;
  • July 28 - Te Kauwhata farm manager Kerry James Murphy was sentenced after he drove his four-wheel drive into a herd of cows and hit them with the bull bars. The animals were running as fast as they could to the paddock where Murphy wanted them to be, but he continued to drive into them with his vehicle. He was convicted and fined $3500;
  • August - Waikato farm owner Shane Kingsley Torstonson was fined after leaving a herd of cows to starve on his property. Some were left for dead and seven disappeared. A vet who assessed the animals found signs consistent with the animals being underfed for a prolonged period of time;
  • August 15 - an Invercargill dairy company and two of its managers were fined after one of the worst examples of long-term neglect in the dairy sector. Castlerock Dairies Ltd and Jared Matthews and Dean McMillan were fined a total of $60,000 after cows were found to be suffering “catastrophic” lameness. The neglect led to 193 cows being euthanised and 761 requiring treatment for their injuries. 24 vets spent weeks on the two farms treating the animals. A vet described the animal welfare issues as almost beyond comprehension and unparalleled and unprecedented;
  • August 22 - South Canterbury farmer Daniel Alexander Little pleaded guilty to two charges of ill treatment of animals and one charge of wilfully ill-treating an animal between 1 June 2015 and 7 September 2016 after using repeated and excessive force and violence and cruelty against an unknown number of cows. Little broke the tails of an unknown number of cows; repeatedly punched and struck the cows on the legs, face and head with an alkathene pipe; and dragged calves by their ears and legs and threw them into a trailer. Little was seen by staff breaking cows’ tails and, hearing the tails break, leaving them bent and curved in. He took no steps to obtain veterinary care for any animals he injured. 579 cows were examined by a vet and 81 were found to have broken tails. 19 were assessed as being very recent or acute and having occurred within three weeks of the inspection;


  • March 9 - Taranaki farmer James Ernest Cover was sentenced on three animal welfare charges after a cow was seen lying dead in a drain and dozens of starving and emaciated cattle were found on his farm. A welfare visit was made to the farm following a complaint to MPI. A vet said two downer cows were in a “shocking state” and other cows were visibly affected by feed shortage and in extremely poor condition. The vet said 32 cows were emaciated and 20 sheep were in poor condition;
  • March 23 - Golden Bay farm manager Steven John Wells was convicted of ill-treating cows in his care. He was convicted of six counts under the Animal Welfare Act for breaking cows’ tails, hitting them with a metal pipe, kicking them, kneeing them and punching them in 2015 and 2016. A number of his employees and former employees gave evidence about Wells’ ill-treatment of animals and anger management issues. Judge Tony Zohrab said Wells’ actions, including slamming a gate into a cow’s head, all constituted “extreme violence.” On 16 May 2018 Wells was banned from owning animals for five years;
  • June 22 - A Nelson farmer was banned from owning or caring for cows for 10 years after ill-treating cows and calves. An inspection of his property found dead, rotting and dying calves, cows in “obvious pain and distress” with skin sores and diarrhoea and cattle housed in a shed that was a “deep boggy mix of sawdust, mud, water and effluent.” Raymond Albert Gardner was sentenced on three charges of failing to provide treatment to ill and injured animals, three of failing to meet animals’ needs, three of keeping a suffering animal alive and two of ill-treating an animal. MPI gave Gardner advice and plans to address the condition of the animals, but he failed to take action. In some instances, Gardner thought calves had already died but one moribund calf half-buried in mud and said by Gardner to be dead was still breathing. Gardner said nine other calves had died from scours as he had fed them lamb’s milk powder and green top milk as he had not been able to obtain calf milk powder. One calf was found collapsed, emaciated and flyblown, with mature maggots and new eggs and had to be euthanised immediately.
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