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Monday 5 December 2016

Damning animal welfare report on farm of 'Ireland's Fittest Family' at centre of bank debts auction

Cork farmer Peter Kingston blasts report as 'baloney' and 'ludicrous'

Darragh McCullough and Ralph Riegel

Published 19/04/2016 | 02:30

Peter Kingston at his home, adjacent to his family farm in Nohoval, Co Cork. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Peter Kingston at his home, adjacent to his family farm in Nohoval, Co Cork. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

The farmer at the centre of a massive repossession controversy in Cork has slated a damning report on the state of animal welfare at his Cradenhill farm near Kinsale.

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The report, completed by Fermoy vet Seán O'Sullivan, claims that the 1,000-head herd, which was sold following a High Court ruling on an unpaid €2.4m debt to ACC, was in dire need of emergency care.

Mr O'Sullivan, who documented the actions taken to save the herd during the four-month period in the run-up to last week's auction, stated that many calves had already died this year due to the absence of basic vaccination and healthcare requirements.

However, the former herd-owner, Peter Kingston, has dismissed the report and labelled the litany of issues "baloney" and "ludicrous".

"That vet stood in my yard (last December) and told me there was no sign of any welfare issues," said Mr Kingston, adding that his son was witness to the exchange.

"We only lost about 10 to 12 animals during the previous four months. We were going really well up to that point," he added, claiming that the Dutch management team employed on the farm by the County Sheriff last December had lost many multiples of this.

CATTLE: Peter Kingston. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
CATTLE: Peter Kingston. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

'Shocked'

However, an affidavit lodged by Cork County Sheriff Sinéad McNamara, stated that both she and Mr O'Sullivan were "shocked" by the condition of the herd and the farm in general.

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"No feed had been provided for the herd, Mr Kingston stated that he had ordered feed but that it hadn't arrived. There was no feed for the calves," it continued.

Mr O'Sullivan's report states that "the majority of animals on the farm were unacceptably thin, with low body condition score averaging two" last December.

It continues: "Calf health was further compromised as the previous keeper of the herd, Mr Kingston, informed me that no vaccination programmes were in place to prevent common cow and calf diseases, including viral diarrhoea, viral and bacterial pneumonia and BVD,

Many of the cows that were sold last week averaged €700 a head, despite being descended from some of the most sought-after bloodlines within the breed, which would have been expected to fetch more.

The herd was restricted on disease-control grounds due to a failed TB test before the new management took over.

Despite a clear TB test, it remained restricted by the Department of Agriculture until late March, which further contributed to overstocking and increased disease, the veterinary report states.

The new workers, along with a team of vets, tried to prevent a major disease outbreak in calves during the spring, which cost the lives of "many" animals.

The animal-welfare issues contributed significantly to the estimated €1m invested by Cork County Sheriff Ms McNamara into the farm since its repossession, according to the veterinary report.

After Ms McNamara had said she was shocked by the condition of the herd and property when she took possession, Mr Kingston's wife, Tracey, said it was "very upsetting to hear people saying those things".

She continued: "The welfare of the animals would be the number one priority on this farm and it always has been."

The Kingstons, who had featured on and won RTÉ's programme 'Ireland's Fittest Families', also rejected claims that the farm was over-stocked to the point that there were not enough drinking points available for stock. The vet's report states that water supplies were also contaminated with faeces, resulting in a new well being drilled.

"We had enough water. The (Sheriff's employees) were washing down the yard every day with a high-volume hose, which was emptying all the water out of the system," said Mr Kingston.

The report also claimed that cows were being put at risk of colic and death due to plastic being mixed with silage, while large parts of the two-acre shed were unusable due to flooding and new-born calves were left standing in "inches of water".

In addition, slurry pits were exposed, with no safety fencing to keep either animals or humans from falling in; there were no working cattle crush on the farm, a vital facility on a farm for putting cattle in to safely handle them for testing or vaccinations; and calf-housing had no wind breaks.

A "substantial segment" of the 64-unit rotary milking machine was also not working.

After the auction, Mr Kingston said farmers with bank debt now faced "a colonial-type situation" and that the family had vowed to stick together and keep going.

Five similar auctions are now understood to be in planning in south Munster, involving other farmers who are in serious arrears with bank debts.

Mr Kingston said: "We made five different offers to try and get this settled. We had outside investors lined up.

"They would have got their money back. We offered to pay back up to €3.4m on four separate occasions to ACC. It is just heartbreaking."

The Kingston's Cradenhill Farm was purchased by George Kingston in 1972 with the proceeds of profits from his Cork beehive operation and his son Peter became involved in 1983.

From 2007, they expanded the dairy operation with the construction of a new milking parlour capable of handling 600 cows and then sheds, including one with almost one hectare under cover. Debt became a critical problem for the operation from 2013 and in June 2015 ACC secured a judgement on foot of the €2.4m that it was owed.

Irish Independent