A WEALTHY landowner who left more than 350 sheep and cows to starve to death on his farm has been barred from keeping animals for life.
John Ferguson narrowly avoided being sent to jail yesterday for what one senior animal welfare officer described as the worst case of large-scale neglect he had ever seen.
A sheriff told Ferguson that the maximum sentence he could impose would effectively mean little more than two months in prison and instead ordered him to carry out the maximum 300 hours unpaid work.
Ferguson left the animals to starve to death on the 700-acre farm and SSPCA inspectors found a scene of unparalleled carnage on his land, including the skeletal remains of 340 sheep and 14 cows.
The neglect was discovered following a tip-off.
Perth Sheriff Court was told yesterday that two thirds of the surviving herd of cattle were “extremely emaciated.” One cow had died giving birth.
Fiscal depute Catherine Fraser said: “The farm had over 1,120 sheep and a herd of 150 cattle. Many were emaciated. In some of the fields there was no access for the animals to shelter from adverse conditions.
“There was little to no grazing across the farm. Across the farm, there were numerous animal carcasses in various states of decomposition. Those animals that had recently died were emaciated. Rings of wool were observed on fields where sheep carcasses had lain. In total, 340 sheep and 14 cow carcasses were removed to the knacker’s yard.”
The 50-year-old farmer and businessman left the animals on land at Welton of Creuchies farm in Alyth over a five month spell last winter. He admitted two charges relating to the unnecessary suffering of beasts on his farm estate.
The farmer, who has a herd of 1,120 sheep, failed to provide a suitable environment for his livestock between 1 October 2011 and 23 February last year.
He failed to remove 354 animal carcasses, having failed to provide adequate nutrition, a suitable diet or appropriate sheltered accommodation for his herd of cattle and flock of sheep.
Ferguson admitted failing to protect the animals from injury, suffering or disease by failing to get them treatment for liver fluke and failing to monitor their welfare.
He also admitted causing 95 cows and stirks (young heifers or bullocks) unnecessary suffering by failing to provide them with adequate nutrition during the same time period.
Sheriff Lindsay Foulis imposed the maximum 300 hours unpaid work as a direct alternative to a prison term and banned Ferguson for life from keeping or dealing with animals.
SSPCA chief inspector Brian Cowing, who led the investigation, said: “Animal cruelty cases of such severity are thankfully rare and, in my 32 years with the Scottish SPCA, this is by far the worst animal welfare case I have dealt with on such a large scale, with massive loss of livestock.
“We believe John Ferguson has demonstrated beyond any doubt that he is unfit to provide animals with the proper care and attention they require.”