It is probably no longer a question of whether a prison sentence is appropriate for father and son who at least did not treat sick cattle on their farms in the Allgäu and thus tortured them according to the Animal Welfare Act. In their pleadings on Wednesday, the prosecutor and defense attorneys agreed that the two farmers were at fault. When the verdict is reached on Tuesday, November 29, the all-important question for the defendants will be: Do they have to go to prison or can the sentence be suspended, as their defense lawyers have asked for?
Animal rights activists, who uncovered the Allgäu animal welfare scandal on several farms in 2019 with pictures and video recordings from the stables around Bad Grönenbach, made it clear on the sidelines of the process that they hope the verdict would have a deterrent effect: If there were only a suspended sentence, so the tenor was that farmers who mistreated their animals still had little to fear.
According to the public prosecutor, the 25-year-old son should go to prison for two years and ten months. He thinks two years and six months in prison is appropriate for the 68-year-old father. Taking into account the confessions and expert opinions, there is no doubt that the two farmers failed to give their sick animals the necessary care and veterinary treatment. Even laypeople could tell that the animals were in a miserable condition. The prosecution listed more than 50 mistreated animals, leaving a little less than 50 cases in the process that are to be punished.
Given the seriousness of the allegations, the parties agreed not to pursue other charges, such as possibly illegal backfilling of a gravel pit or unpaid social security contributions for employees, because they would not carry any further weight in the sentencing.
Father and son had to look after about 500 cattle on three farms. They are accused of leaving the cattle in the dung, some of the animals were malnourished and dehydrated. They suffered from behavioral problems and diarrhea, they were paralyzed and some were deformed. The Animal Welfare Act and the Animal Husbandry Ordinance oblige animal owners to look after cattle according to their species and their needs. This means, the prosecutor stressed, that sick cattle must be taken to a veterinarian, treated and separated from the herd. It is remarkable, however, that there was not even a sick bay.
The prosecutor found photographs and videos shown during the proceedings to be shocking. The animals would have had to endure long-lasting and significant pain that could have been avoided by veterinary treatment. The public prosecutor therefore sees little difference in omission to active animal cruelty. He also accuses the father of having dehorned eight cattle without sufficient anesthesia by burning them out, which resulted in massive pain for the animals.
The 68-year-old farmer had a relevant criminal record, he had already been fined before the investigations that led to the trial, among other things, for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The son was noticed during the hearing through derogatory gestures and facial expressions when pictures of sick cows were shown. The prosecutor therefore raised doubts about the sincerity of the confession.
The defense attorneys, who were just picking up the confessions, naturally saw things differently. Your clients could have kept silent. However, the father was honestly shocked by the pictures of the sick cattle. “It may be difficult to imagine,” said his defense attorney. “He could have noticed that earlier.” However, the farmers were massively overwhelmed by the large number of cattle to be cared for and by the ever-changing demands of the inspectors. “It was a whirlpool,” the defense attorney said, pointing to stacks of unopened letters in an office. “They just couldn’t handle it anymore.” There can be no question of systematic animal cruelty. For the dehorning of eight cattle, for example, the 68-year-old can be acquitted because he sedated the animals.
The defense attorneys demanded prison sentences of just under two years, which can be suspended on probation. It cannot be about making an example just because this is the first trial in the Allgäu animal welfare scandal. The investigations against several farms rolled years ago because of alleged misconduct on a neighboring farm with even more cattle. Two more procedures are to follow next year. The defendants did not want to talk big in their last word before the verdict: “I’m sorry,” said father and son, who were banned from keeping animals and have since sold all the animals and leased large parts of their farm.