PETERBOROUGH — Peterborough-area beef farmer Walter Ray could be out $144,000 and he’s not taking it lightly. The province confiscated 101 of his beef animals and he was billed between $20 to $50 per head per day for their care over six weeks.
Treatment of the cattle was never an issue until Animal Welfare Services inspectors spooked the herd and accidentally killed two cows.
Ray, 76, has not been charged with any offence in connection with the Dec. 16 seizure at his Warsaw farm. Animal Welfare Services inspectors acting under the new Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) scooped up more than half of his herd after he failed to comply with orders to clean up “hazardous debris” on parts of the property a month earlier. The herd ran free over 200 acres.
He appealed to the Animal Care Review Board for the return of his cattle and relief from the six-figure boarding bill incurred over six weeks at undisclosed foster-farm locations, where the animals still remained at the end of March. Four days of hearings wrapped up March 28.
Ray’s lawyer, Kitchener-based Robert Scriven, who is also a beef farmer, told Farmers Forum that Ray’s bill was driven up by the foster farm’s “exorbitant” daily fee of between $20 and $50 per head.
That rate stood in stark contrast to the $5 per head per day that longtime sale barn operator Dave DeNure said he charges to keep, feed and water cattle for brief stays at his facility before a sale. The Hoard’s Station sale barn proprietor testified March 28 that a PAWS official told him he could be charging more. “I said, we don’t need to charge any more than that. That’s what we charge.”
DeNure dealt with PAWS investigators in the Ray case as the agency brought the farmer’s animals to his facility to be tagged and pregnancy-checked before PAWS whisked them away to the foster farm.
Ray maintains that PAWS should have at least sent his cattle straight to market and given him the money, rather than placing the cattle in high-cost foster care for an extended period. While that request was made at the outset, PAWS turned it down, according to testimony at the hearings.
Scriven told Farmers Forum that his client’s animals are indeed headed for market very soon under a recently reached settlement concerning the cattle.
Ray’s predicament is believed to be the first time that PAWS officials have removed cattle from a commercial farm operation since that organization took over enforcement duties from the Ontario Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 2019.
PAWS investigators “are supposed to be the elite of the cattle industry, and to me, they’re the absolute worst,” Ray said, his voice momentarily breaking with emotion, when answering Scriven’s questions during testimony March 28. “They just terrorized that herd,” he said, referring to the Dec. 16 roundup of his cattle by a contractor, hired by PAWS.
Ray testified he felt as if he was being “robbed” when PAWS and its contractor arrived to take the mixed black and red Angus animals.
The contractor used two ATVs in an attempt to wrangle more than 170 head at the Ray farm. The effort only managed to collect 101, with two animals dying and an injured contractor who spent a number of weeks in hospital. “You’ll never load cattle that way,” Beef Farmers of Ontario animal advisory councillor John Lunn testified March 28.
Ray, Lunn and a group of neighbours managed to round up the remaining 73 animals a couple of days later. Ray testified the leftover cattle were still spooked from the previous experience and consequently crashed through a cemetery fence. The 73 cows were shipped directly to the Hoard’s sale barn Dec. 19 and sold off Jan. 4, as per the owner’s wishes, fetching $51,000.
DeNure testified that Ray’s animals were in good condition, describing them as “every bit as good as the other cattle in the sale as far as marketability.”
Board member Susan Clarke heard the appeal. Scriven said he doesn’t expect a ruling before the end of May on what he considers to be “one of the most consequential cases for Ontario agriculture” he has so far handled in his career.