Farmer faces jail for animal welfare offences, court told
A farmer has been warned he may face imprisonment for serious animal welfare issues, which a judge described as "grotesque and barbarous".
Concerns were raised following an anonymous report about animal welfare and the general state of a farm, which despite repeated inspections by officials from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), did not meet required standards.
William Ronald Armstrong (60) of Gorey Road, Cabragh, admitted 16 offences during March and April 2018, involving eight counts of animal welfare breaches, three of failing to ensure animal needs, two each of failing to keep and produce medical veterinary records and a single count of failing to hold a carcass.
Dungannon Magistrates' Court heard inspectors were met with a horrendous sight, including calves housed in filthy pens without clean water.
There were also three dead calves and a foetus among dirty, wet livestock. Emaciated cows stood in overflowing slurry, with carcases among this, clearly dead for some time, and were being trampled underfoot. Armstrong claimed the water source had frozen and some of the animals died from dehydration.
DAERA staff issued notices for the disposal of all carcases, clean water sources and dry areas for cattle to lie. When inspectors returned the carcases had been removed, but the calf houses remained filthy. Armstrong was asked for his medical records which he said he didn't have, but would provide on the next inspection. Another visit found some issues resolved, but concerns remained.
A defence lawyer previously claimed several factors were involved, one of which was very cold weather.
The defence added: "My client has farmed all his life. The summer of 2017 was one of the worst for farmers who could not get their slurry tanks emptied. This led to a continuing battle to keep the houses in order. My client suffers ill health and had no help. It's a miracle he was able to get out at all."
The case was adjourned a number of times for DAERA to monitor that Armstrong was fully complying with all required welfare standards.
Yesterday the court heard regular inspections have been carried out since January, and there are currently no issues. This was confirmed verbally in court by a DAERA veterinary officer, although District Judge John Meehan had ruled this was to be supplied in a written report.
Armstrong was due to be sentenced, but having been reminded of the details, Judge Meehan halted the case as the custody threshold was met.
The judge warned Armstrong: "You may face imprisonment. You are well-advised to co-operate fully with the preparation of a pre-sentence report."
Sentencing is to take place in October.