A Norwegian farmer in his 30s went on trial Monday for refusing to give his cattle food, water or other care for what prosecutors think was as long as three months last winter. Authorities were only allowed into his barn after police arrived on the scene in March, and then they found the cadavers of 92 animals including calves born under the worst of circumstances.
“We had to get help from police to finally get in,” Hilde Selnes of Norway’s food safety agency Mattilsynet testified when the trial began in the Namdal court in Nord-Trøndelag.
“There was a terrible stink inside the barn, and all we could do was to make sure all the animals were dead,” Selnes testified. She was among the first to discover the grisly scene at the farm in Fosnes, along with police and a colleague.
The farmer is charged with gross negligence and violation of Norway’s animal welfare laws. His entire herd of cattle was found dead on March 20 last year. Authorities think the farmer stopped caring for his aimals in December 2014.
“Some of the animals probably died quite quickly, but others may have survived until just a few weeks before we arrived,” Selnes testified. “The animals were found in large piles, probably because it was easier for them to stay warm that way. Some of the calves were born after the farmer stopped feeding his animals, and some of the animals were tied up.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the farmer’s defense attorney had no immediate explanation for his client’s failure to tend to his herd. “There can be a connection to his father falling ill, and that he (the elder farmer) couldn’t help,” defense attorney Bertil Smalås told NRK.
No signs of mental illness
Court psychiatrists have determined, however, that the younger farmer was neither depressed nor psychotic. “That’s not an issue in this case,” said prosecutor Amund Sand. “The defendant is capable of standing trial. He has been aware that his animals did not receive food, drink, supervision or care. He had to have known that the animals would suffer and die.”
The farmer’s motives remain unclear and he offered little explanation himself, apart from testifying that his father had become difficult and stopped helping. “There was more and more criticism and quarreling, it was almost like terror,” testified the farmer. When it became clear his father was ill, the farmer stopped the animals food: “I postponed and postponed it, and didn’t do anything,” he testified, adding that he would put on his overalls to trick his wife into thinking he was working in the barn, “but I would just sit down somewhere outside.” He claimed he realized he should feed his animals, but couldn’t manage to think over the consequences when he didn’t.
His defense attorney Smalås noted that under Norway’s support programs for farmers, he “could have just made a telephone call and sent the animals to slaughter, and earned between NOK 900,000 and NOK 1 million,” Smalås said. “Instead he’s sitting here charged in this case.”
NRK reported that it also emerged in court that large quantities of cattle feed were found on the farm, along with the equipment to distribute it. The farmer simply hadn’t distributed any of the food to his animals. “The water was also turned off, and we believe this was a premeditated action,” Sand said. The farmer faces up to three years in prison. He’s already been stripped of his rights to ever be responsible for animals again.