By Dr David McDonnell – Managing Director of Tauranga Veterinary Services Ltd

There has been some publicity about the ability of agencies such as Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) in enforcing animal welfare through regulations that have come into force since 1st October, 2018.

The regulations allow infringement notices or prosecutions to have an associated penalty. Some campaigners have asserted that rural veterinarians are able to report such cases, but due to living in small rural committees and engaging in commercial relationships with offending farmers they are compromised.

Information released under the Official Information (OIA) requested by animal welfare campaigners is that they assert a disparity exists between numbers of reported cases for tail breaking or cows in mud for example and their view of the potential extent of the problem. Their belief is a resource issue or a failure of rural veterinarians reporting it.

As a rural practitioner for over 30 years my first-hand experience of welfare concerns related to commercial farmers has been no more than three or four farms. At all stages, many agencies such as MPI, SPCA, Fonterra and DairyNZ were involved along with us as veterinarians in the local veterinary practice.

Certainly, tolerance and thresholds for what is considered acceptable has lowered markedly and that is a good thing. We know that with healthy productive livestock everyone wins – from a welfare and financial perspective.

One thing is for certain, a rural veterinarian may on the outside seem compromised in these situations, my better outcomes have resulted from engaging and communicating with those farmers who are falling short. Someone needs to bridge that gap and act as an advocate for the livestock, whilst respectfully building trust with the farmer. During this process you gain an understanding of the invariably confounding issues on farm around financial, weather, diseases, staffing, and mental well-being on the farm. Under our Professional Code of Conduct with the Veterinary Council New Zealand (VCNZ) we have an ability to work with farmers on planned intervention that can relieve the problem. If satisfactory progress is not made with those plans, we have an obligation to report it to MPI. Mainly, our work is not recorded at a national level, but it is all in our daily work.

In my limited experience, in situations whereby it is public, and every agency is involved nothing is gained.

Lifestyle farming in our district is the greatest potential for animal welfare conflict. It usually arises from a lack of suitable farming knowledge of animal husbandry and nutrition. It is at the low end, but the neglect is from a lack of education or training. Such as recognising feet or dental problems. Nutrition issues arise from lack of planning and resources – area of land allocated, grass or supplement allowances. These can be easily remedied.

In Katikati, we as your local veterinarians can help if you are unsure. We are happy to act in an advising or educating capacity. We work with local and government agencies such as Ministry Primary Industries (MPI) and SPCA to ensure that animal welfare is improved.