Chesterville farmer beat their charges, but it financially flattened him
CHESTERVILLE — Just over a decade after winning his legal battle with Ontario’s animal police — at a cost that flattened him financially — former dairy farmer David Robinson, 72, still has about half of the cows. Robinson’s aging herd of 22 Holsteins hasn’t been milked since 2011 as he sold his quota to pay mounting legal bills that ultimately hit about $200,000.
The Chesterville-area farmer and his wife, Marilyn, fought the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) and its 13 animal cruelty charges totalling a possible $720,000 in fines. The problem was that Robinson took pride in being able to milk cows into an advanced age — one to age 18 — and older cows don’t often look so pleasing to the eye. A photo of a 14-year-cow was used as evidence against him. But two local veterinarians, Dr. Willy Armstrong and Dr. Larry Gray, testified at an Animal Care Review Board in Cornwall that the cows were well-fed and cared for. Gray told Farmers Forum at the time that you can’t make an old woman look 20. He testified that “If this herd is in trouble then over half the herds in Dundas County are in trouble.”
The charges were finally stayed at the end of 2012. In theory, Robinson was exonerated but the process was the punishment and it left his farm in ruins.
Today, he sounds embittered and broken and all because an anonymous tipster complained about seeing a dozen heifers outside his barn on a mild day in December 2010. He’s lost 13 years of milk cheques, money that would have helped keep his six tractors in good repair. He can’t help but wonder about the potential lost opportunity for his grandson.
He kept the cows because the line has been in his family for the last 6 or 7 generations, since before 1900, he replies, adding he hoped “sooner or later” to be milking again. “But it’s quite obvious I’m not going back to milking again,” he adds. “My kidneys are done, my heart is done, and I’ve got diabetes.”
With a tone of resigned sadness, he concedes that he can’t keep his animals for another winter. “Some way, I’ve got to get rid of them.
“I can’t keep this up any longer. I’m done. I’d be willing to negotiate if the OSPCA wanted to take them now.”
The Robinson story helped drive an Ontario Landowners Association backlash against the OSPCA. The OSPCA — a private organization — voluntarily relinquished its unusual animal-welfare enforcement powers it had held for decades, under provincial law, in 2019. Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) is the new animal police.
Robinson now grows 80 acres of soybeans as his main source of on-farm income and says he earns about $50,000 from his bean crop, about the same as he earned from his milking herd. A friend provides Robinson with soybean seed at no charge. He also has 120 acres of hay but expects to give away that crop. He also gets a meager Canada Pension Plan payment of $160 per month plus Old Age Pension.
He misses his milking herd, he says, and rhymes off the names of some of his favourites from the past, including ‘Lisa’ and ‘Nancy.’ “We had a 4.3 % average butterfat test … pretty damned good for Holsteins,” he proudly says.
He is grateful to the many people who raised money to help him continue farming. But he thinks about his tragic loss every day and said nothing gives him peace. “Not a damned thing,” he says, but removing the pensions of the OSPCA agents who targeted him would be a start.