Incident appalls industry | Veterinarian says there are many kinds of animal welfare problems
Manitoba’s top animal welfare officer hopes jail time for a farmer convicted of cruelty will highlight the farming community’s revulsion.
However, he also hopes the agriculture community keeps the human toll of animal suffering in mind when thinking about disease, neglect and deliberate abuse.
“It was an injury to the community at large,” Dr. Terry Whiting, Manitoba Agriculture’s manager of animal health and welfare, told reporters at the Manitoba Swine Seminar when talking about the conviction of a farmer for allowing 67 of his cattle to die and the rest of the herd to be in dire straits by the time authorities intervened.
Thomas Jeffrey McLean of Pilot Mound, Man., was sentenced to a 45-day intermittent jail sentence following a case of extreme neglect in 2011. Whiting, who investigated the case, described it as “appalling.”
He said he hopes the conviction and jail time aren’t just seen by the farming community as punishment for an offender but as a powerful statement of what people in agriculture consider to be unacceptable.
“To prosecute someone, you have to do something that is appalling to cattle farmers in general, and this guy’s behaviour was beyond the pale,” said Whiting.
Farmers in the local area were upset by what happened, especially those who knew the well-respected herd, but Whiting said animal suffering also hurts farm workers who deal with animals dying naturally of disease.
He told hog farmers at swine seminar to think about the toll it takes on barn workers who face mass piglet deaths from porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.
“You work in a nursery barn because you love pigs,” Whiting said.
“These middle-aged women who work in nursery barns, they can bring piglets back from the friggin’ dead.… For these people to experience 100 percent pig loss in the nursery is brutal. It’s an injury that nobody mentions.”
Hog farmers need to ensure that their workers are OK handling the death and suffering if PED shows up in Manitoba.
Whiting also said farmers need to ensure they’re not unintentionally causing suffering or discomfort to animals because they can no longer handle all the demands of farming as they age.
He said the biggest group of farmers who fail to meet expectations for acceptable treatment of animals is bachelor farmers older than 75.
“We have a lot of them and that’s their life. They have nothing else,” Whiting told reporters.
“They hang on to their cattle as an anchor to keep them from elder care because they want to stay on the farm.”
Whiting said veterinary officials can work with farmers who are losing their ability to manage to ensure animals don’t suffer.
“I just spend some time with them and convince them that, ‘you’re 85 and you can’t calve out 150 cows anymore,’ ” he said.