A south-west farmer accused of neglecting cattle on his Coleraine property has narrowly avoided a jail sentence. Brendan Edward Fitzgerald, 71, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty-related offences in Hamilton Magistrates Court on December 6, 2023. The court heard the offending occurred in late 2021 and mid July 2023. Magistrate Franz Holzer banned Fitzgerald from owning or being in charge of any farm animals for a period of 10 years and imposed a $50,000 fine. The court heard officers from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action attended Fitzgerald's property - Tarcoola - in 2021 following a complaint. A mob of about 450 cattle were on the property, which had internal fence lines in a state of disrepair. This meant various classes of cattle had access to the entire property. Officers observed a third to half of the mob had scours, a number exhibited evidence of worm burden and a large number had poor body condition. "The youngest stock were observed to have poor body condition, with an average score of one to two out of five," the court was told. The adult stock had an average score of one to four out of five. "There were also a number of deceased cattle observed across the property," the court heard. The cattle had died "anywhere from three days to four weeks prior". Most had evidence of prolonged and heavy scouring at death. The court was told a number of the cattle had been calving at the time of death. Two had attempted to give birth but had run out of energy and experienced prolonged pain before dying. One cow had a large weeping lesion, which was found to be a malignant cancer of the eye - otherwise known as cancer eye. The court was told the lesion had "obliterated its left eye" and resulted in a 50 per cent loss of vision. The court heard this cow was euthanised to prevent further pain and suffering. Another cow found entangled in fence wiring was also euthanised, while another deceased cow on the property was believed to have died four weeks ago and had likely "struggled for many days prior to death". Officers also witnessed a number of other seriously disabled cattle. In the weeks that followed officers returned to the property on a number of occasions. Fitzgerald appeared to be adhering to some of the requirements set out by the officers but there were still fences that hadn't been repaired. In July 2023, officers again attended Fitzgerald's property following a complaint. The average body condition of the mob of 450 cattle was 1.5 out of five and 70 per cent had scouring. Officers observed pastoral availability across the property was minimal. Fitzgerald said he was providing the cattle with eight bales of hay per week and feeding out every second day. "Officers advised the accused he should be feeding eight bales of hay daily given the circumstances and given the minimal pastoral availability," the court was told. During a further visit in July officers found two cows which had horns growing inwards towards the side of their head, while another had chronic glaucoma. "The cow could not close its eye lid," the court was told. Fitzgerald had faced similar charges in 2019, 2013 and 2014, with cattle found with cancer eye and other untreated ailments. After hearing the agreed summary of offences, Mr Holzer said he was considering imposing a jail sentence for the offending. "From my point of view this is such an egregious example of a failure to take proper care and to be cruel - I'm thinking of a jail sentence irrespective of what others have done in the past," he said. Fitzgerald's lawyer told the court his client had worked on the farm since the age of 14. After his parents retired, he was the sole person responsible for three properties - which span 2500 acres. The court was told he had experienced mental health issues over the past decade. This resulted in him "withdrawing himself" from all activities, including farming activities. The court was told Fitzgerald was in the process of selling the remaining stock on his property. The magistrate accepted Fitzgerald's lawyer's submission that the cruelty was a result of neglect rather than wilful or intentional harm. "Had it been if any of it was intentional behaviour, you would have gone to jail, there's no ifs or buts about it and even today, had you not pleaded guilty for the various offences, you would have gone to jail for a minimum period of 15 months," Mr Holzer said. "Yours was really a considered and a repeated 'taking your eyes off the ball' I suspect, rather than something more malicious or sinister and that's the reason why I have spared you jail."