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Manitoba farmer fined after starving cattle found on his property

WINNIPEG -- A struggling Manitoba cattle farmer blames his declining health and dwindling bank account for the starvation deaths of a dozen cows. Donald Cicholski, 62, pleaded guilty Thursday to several charges under the provincial Animal Care Ac...

WINNIPEG -- A struggling Manitoba cattle farmer blames his declining health and dwindling bank account for the starvation deaths of a dozen cows.

Donald Cicholski, 62, pleaded guilty Thursday to several charges under the provincial Animal Care Act.

He was given a $12,900 fine under a joint-agreement between Crown and defence lawyers.

He is also banned from owning any animals for the next five years.

Defence lawyer Peter Edgett told court his client believes this will finish him off.

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Cicholski currently has no work and very little money and is the sole caregiver for his two children, aged five and seven, after his common-law wife recently left him.

"This has tugged at my heartstrings. It very much concerns me you've put (the children) in that condition," said provincial court associate chief Judge Janice leMaistre. "I hope you're able to find a way to provide for those children."

Crown attorney Shaun Sass said investigators with the RCMP and Manitoba Agriculture were called to Cicholski's Neepawa-area farm in the spring of 2007 following reports of two dead cows seen on the property.

Once inside, they actually found 12 dead cattle. Another 10 were alive but had suffered "severe weight loss" and clearly been neglected, court was told.

Officials found an empty feeder and no mineral or salt supplements. Cicholski admitted he hadn't been feeding them animals properly since the previous fall.

"He was having significant financial and health problems, and found acquiring feed to be a difficult thing to do financially," Edgett said Thursday.

Cicholski said he asked his common-law wife and two adult sons to help him but they failed to do so.

An autopsy on the dead cattle revealed they had all died slowly of starvation.

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Officials tried to round up the remaining cattle from the property but were unsuccessful, court was told. Several people on foot and horseback were unable to lure them with food as bait and they scattered into the woods surrounding the vast property.

Cicholski has continued to care for those remaining animals while his case remains before the courts. They are reportedly in good health and getting plenty of food and water.

LeMaistre ordered Thursday that Cicholski forfeit the remaining herd, meaning another attempt to seize the cows will have to be made.

"That gives me some confidence this offence won't be repeated," she said.

This wasn't the first time Cicholski was investigated for how he was treating his herd. Provincial officials seized livestock from him in 2004 but laid no charges, court was told. No other details of that incident were provided to the court.

Edgett admitted his client made some "serious errors" and is paying a hefty price. Cicholski will now have to find another way to earn income in order to support his children, and pay off the court-ordered fine. LeMaistre has given him five years to clear the debt.

"Its' unfortunate those people you counted on (to help you) weren't there when you needed it," she said.

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