Annabel Kanabus, her husband, Peter, and son, Jason, who run the farm in West Grinstead, West Sussex, faced criminal charges after inspectors from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found the cows, some of which were pregnant, emaciated, steeped in their own manure and too weak to walk.
Even after Mr Kanabus and his 22-year-old son were arrested last November, when inspectors visiting the farm noticed a dead cow in a field, the family refused to acknowledge that the cattle were being neglected.
On that occasion inspectors found the cow's carcass in a flooded field with scores of emaciated cattle, some pregnant. They seized 20 cows, some only half their correct weight. A veterinary surgeon said the animals were suffering from the effects of being deprived of adequate food for up to 12 weeks.
When the RSPCA officers returned in January, the conditions had worsened. Two pregnant cows were found immobile and emaciated in a field and had to be shot on the spot. A dead calf was found trampled into the manure of a yard where scores of cattle were being held in appalling conditions. Some were more than a foot deep in their own filth. A further 20 cows needing intensive treatment were seized and taken away.
At Horsham magistrates' court in West Sussex yesterday, David Buck, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said the men denied anything was wrong when they were first arrested and questioned by Crawley police.
Mr Buck said: "Peter Kanabus said some of the animals were thin but blamed this on the fact that they were suckling calves. Jason Kanabus denied that any of the animals were emaciated."
Inspectors returned to the farm at 7.30am on 6 February and brought police officers with them, the court heard.
Mr Buck told the court: "There is every sign that the management of the farm had completely disintegrated at this point."
A vet was called in to shoot the two pregnant heifers lying in their own waste in a field on the farm.
Mr Kanabus, 49, and his son admitted 43 charges of causing neglect and unnecessary suffering to the cattle at New House Farm during two periods between 20 and 27 November 1997, and from 6 January to 6 February this year.
The RSPCA filed charges against Mrs Kanabus, who works for an Aids charity, because it said she was fully aware by January this year that management of the farm had broken down and animals were being neglected.
James Morgan-Harris, for the defence, blamed the BSE crisis for the family's troubles, explaining that they had decided to keep older animals at their farm and increase the size of their herd, even though they did not have the space.
He said: "They decided they had had enough of commercial farming and were going to sell up and keep a few cattle as hobby farmers."
But the BSE problem made it impossible for them to sell their cattle and their troubles worsened.Reuse content