On February 28th, Animal Protection officers executed a warrant on a rural property north of Lampman. With the assistance of the Estevan RCMP, 131 distressed cattle were seized and taken into protective custody.
Don Ferguson is Executive Director with the Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan. He said the extreme weather was a factor.
“If your husbandry and management practices aren’t addressing those issues, making sure that you have bedding, windbreaks, the quantity and quality of feed that they have is sufficient to maintain themselves during the extreme cold temperatures, then quickly the animals can become compromised and those are situations that we’re seeing throughout the province,” he said.
In fact, the officers also found 16 dead cows on the property, most of which he said were clearly visible from the public roadway.
“Most people that live in a rural community are aware of what is the appropriate level of care for most livestock,” said Ferguson. “If it doesn’t seem right to them, then it probably isn’t, and they don’t have to decide if the animal is in distress or not. They can contact us and then our officers will do an investigation, and we will determine if there’s distress or not.”
He said the APSS receives complaints from members of the public, Crime Stoppers and from veterinarians.
“Sometimes it’s a matter of going out there and there’s some minor improvements that need to be made, and obviously get compliance from the producer to do that to improve the animal’s welfare, and then other times we’ve seen where the animals need to be removed and taken into protective custody to receive that care,” he said.
While no charges have yet been laid and the case is still under investigation, it wasn’t an isolated incident for this extremely cold winter.
Ferguson said 300 cows were also recently seized from a farm near Stoughton for similar reasons. That matter, which occurred mid-February, is also still under investigation.
The process for determining charges includes veterinary reports, and necropsy reports from pathologists in the case of dead animals. The Crown Prosecutor also assists to determine if the case was benign or deliberate abuse. Ferguson said it can be three to six months before charges can actually be laid.
“Cows are actually extremely hardy and do well in extremes of both temperatures, it’s just that when we have extended or extreme cold temperatures, they have increased energy needs,” said Ferguson. “We’re generally starting to see people calve now, so you’ve got pregnant animals that are essentially in extreme cold temperatures that aren’t receiving adequate nutrition, so you end up having concerns and they deteriorate quickly.”
According to the Animal Protection Act (September 2018) veterinarians must report all suspected cases of animal abuse.
Ferguson said the legislation makes a number of resources available for producers to ensure they know how to properly care for their animals.
“One of them is specific about the care and handling of beef cattle,” he said. “It goes into great detail about feed and water, the animal’s health, the animal’s husbandry as well as the animal’s environment and deals with even the extremes in high temperatures and humidity as well as with the extremes in high temperatures and humidity as well as extreme cold, obviously because of what we experience here in the province.”
He said the Ministry of Agriculture has a number of resources on their web sites, even making agrologists available for producers to seek advice. He added there are some instances where producers are even able to get feed testing done at no cost.
Ferguson said two to three per cent of their investigations result in seizure.
“What generally happens in most instances is they’re generally related to sufficient food and water, shelter, veterinary care, or they’re being kept in conditions that would be considered that they will significantly impair the animal’s health or well-being over a period of time, or if they contravene the prescribed Code of Practice.”
If a producer is contravening what is essentially the basic care guide set out for that species of animal, they are considered ‘in distress’, he said, and the animals can be removed from the property if deemed necessary.
Ferguson added the owner does have the right to get the cattle back, but they are required to pay the cost associated with the seizure within a five-day period. They also have to improve the conditions that resulted in the animals being removed. The details are still being worked out for now.