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Mistreatment of deer draws fines for farmer

17 March 2005

Mistreatment of deer draws fines for farmer, stockhands, and company

Illegally and incorrectly develvetting deer without anaesthetic saw three men and a company fined when they were sentenced on animal welfare charges in the Rangiora District Court today.

John Craig Rutherford, 51, a farmer, of Culverden, and his company, Morna Downs Limited, faced a charge of procuring any person to do an act, namely develvetting of deer, as a result of which an animal suffers unreasonable or unnecessary pain or suffering, and another charge of performing a significant procedure on a stag not being a veterinarian or under the supervision of a veterinarian. Rutherford was fined $5000, while his company was fined $7500.

His employees, Hamish Arthur Zuppicich, 26, a stock manager, and Jason Edward Neal, 26, a shepherd, each faced a charge of performing a significant procedure on a stag not being a veterinarian or under the supervision of a veterinarian, and a charge of ill-treatment of deer. They were each fined $750.

The trio and the company pleaded guilty to the charges, laid under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, in March.

Develvetting is a controlled surgical procedure that can only be carried out by a veterinarian or an Accredited Velvetter who has completed a course run by the National Velvet Standards Board (NVSB). Rutherford had applied to become an Accredited Velvetter, but had not done any work to complete the programme, which enables continued exports of venison to Europe, where develvetting is illegal on animal welfare grounds. As recently as 2003 exports into that market were challenged by European deer farmers.

The offending first came to light on 10 December 2003 when eight of 20 stags sent to the PPCS deer slaughter plant at Islington were found by a MAF veterinarian to have been develvetted, with the antler cut too low. Five were cut below the pedicle, the soft growing area, which is fully supplied with blood vessels and nerves until the antler hardens off. The veterinarian believed, judging by the roughness of the cut, that it had not been done by a licensed operator and that no anaesthetic had been used.

Veterinary advice is that unless anaesthetic is used, removing velvet is similar to amputating a finger. Accepted practice is for deer to be develvetted about 1cm above the pedicle to ensure future antler growth is normal.

The eight stags were traced to Morna Downs Limited, the defendant company, operated by Rutherford, who was informed that develvetting was a controlled surgical procedure that could only be carried out be a veterinarian or an Accredited Develvetter. Rutherford had applied to become an Accredited Develvetter, but had not done any work to complete the programme.

The offending occurred after Rutherford was sent information by both Deer Industry New Zealand, the agency responsible for administration of the NVSB velvetting programme (in November 2002) and a Velvet Bulletin prepared by the NVSB (in March 2003). The bulletin reminded deer farmers that “Velvet can only be removed by a veterinarian or by a trained and certified farmer”.

When a search warrant was executed at Morna Downs on 19 March 2004, a pair of loppers used for develvetting deer and rubber rings of a type that had been used for develvetting were found. The rubber rings were the sort used to castrate and dock lambs and calves, and not Natur O rings – the only analgesic rings approved for develvetting deer.

In subsequent interviews, Neal and Zuppicich stated they had develvetted the stags in December 2003, under instructions from Rutherford to remove the antlers about 50mm above the top of the head. Neal stated he and Zuppicich took turns to remove the antlers, using a pair of loppers.

Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry Compliance & Enforcement Group

ENDS

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