Not being able to afford to feed his animals was not a valid excuse for an Oliver rancher at the centre of what is one of the largest seizures of animals in distress in B.C. history.
On Thursday at the Penticton provincial courthouse Rudolph (Rudy) Harfman was found guilty of causing injury to animals being conveyed.
He was handed a six-month conditional sentence and 30 months probation. During this period he cannot be in custody, control or reside on the same premise of any bird or animal. He will have 30 days to dispose of the approximately 40 head of cattle he has now.
“How do I make my living?” pleaded Harfman after Judge Gale Sinclair read his sentence. “I lose my farm and my home. How do I live?”
A total of 121 cows, four sheep and a donkey were taken from the their property in April 2006 after several complaints about the poor conditions the animals were living in. There were also 37 dead cattle and sheep found on the property. Four of the cattle and one sheep were in critical distress and euthanized on the property.
“Saying I couldn’t afford it, doesn’t offer him a defence,” said Sinclair.
Defence lawyers told the court how the couple suffered through lean times after the BSE outbreak dropped cattle prices. Troubles continued in the coming years.
In his summation, defence lawyer Jim Pennington explained how fires in 2003 caused drought, and when Harfman put the herd out to graze, cattle from other owners searching for water would take over the grazing area. He dealt with rustlers and people shooting the animals.
The court heard of an incident where a man was shot and killed on the Harfmans’ property, making it a crime scene and causing Harfman to miss a round of hay cutting that was used to feed the cattle. The defence lawyers described how Harfman struggled to keep the cattle operation going and eventually faced a foreclosure on the property, but was bailed out by family.
Harfman admitted the cattle were “lean,” but said he had a plan and was just waiting until the April 15 Ministry of Forests deadline when he was allowed to turn the cattle onto Crown property to graze. He said he couldn’t afford the inflated cost of hay and thought he could ration out what he had until April.
Harfman explained the remains of animals found on the property were due to cougar attacks, and how he had left them out to “lure” the predators back so he could shoot them.
Dr. Teresa Jacobson, who was asked to come to the Sawmill Road ranch as part of the SPCA investigation, gave evidence of what she saw on the property, including emaciated cattle, dead rabbits, sheep and a horse. Jacobsen described the state of the animals and those in the photos submitted as evidence.
“I was shocked to see the condition of the cattle and their emaciated bodies. The animals were deprived of adequate food. Many animals in these images are sick and all of the animals are in pain,” she said.
Jacobson testified cows had overgrown hooves, overgrown horns, lice and patchy hair. She described one sheep’s wool as overgrown, matted, stuck to its rectum and so full of dirt it could not be sheared. The SPCA lost $15,000 in the investigation from the cost of nursing the animals back to health, which were then sold.
Charges of causing an animal to continue to be in distress were stayed on Harfman. His wife, Celia Harfman, was found not guilty on both counts.