Most of a livestock farmer’s resources are walking around on two or four legs in the barn or the pasture. Animals are crucial to our food supply and the focus of the show world. To give livestock the best chance of success—whether that is defined as the right looks, size, taste, health, strong genetics, or other—proper diet is necessary. We feed livestock many different inputs, from customized blends, to corn or hay, to commercial pellets. One constant is the need for quality and consistency. Slight variations can cause significant problems. Measuring mistakes, mixing problems, or toxins in a feed source can cause livestock to grow sick and die. This causes real damages to a farmer’s bottom line, not to mention the loss of valuable genetics and livestock life. We have successfully handled feed contamination cases, and I’ve learned that there are five evidentiary keys to these disputes.
First, veterinarian and lab records. Feed contamination cases often turn on the records. Veterinarian records show the animals’ health, symptoms, treatments attempted, and initial considerations or diagnoses. Laboratory records show the contents of the feed, including suspected contaminants of concern. This could be a university or private lab. Document when, where, and how the feed samples were taken and keep copies of all paperwork and results.
Second, evidence of herd/flock past performance. A farmer’s own knowledge and expertise regarding his or her animals is the basis for any successful case. Proving a feed contamination case will be easier if you can provide evidence—documents, photographs, records, and witness testimony—about your livestock before the problems started. In other words, were these award winners? Healthy animals? Did these dairy cows have a history of quality milk production? How much had people paid for the show livestock in the past? What is the history of your farm? How many animals? Do you have records of tags or breeds on site? Sale records? The more information you can provide, the better.
Third, expert testimony. Eventually, these cases usually require the hiring of an expert to provide a report on causation. Under our court rules, experts are the only kind of witness generally allowed to give “opinion testimony” at court. A person who has the education or experience to make them an “expert” in the court’s eyes can offer opinions to assist the judge or jury to decide the case. Experts are not free, but they can make a huge difference in the outcome of a case.
Fourth, accurate financial losses. Think about what your damages include. Did animals recover? What would you have sold them for if they had been in good health? What would those animals have produced if they were in good health? Do you have records to back it up? Do you have an accountant with organized records of profit or production in the past? Records do not need to be perfect, but having some evidence of damages makes your case stronger.
Fifth, perseverance. Feed contamination cases are not won over night. Disputes may be resolved through direct communication with the entity at fault, lawyers may have to get involved in those discussions, and sometimes a wronged party must file a lawsuit in state or federal court to receive just compensation for the harm done to them. Be willing to see it through to the end.
If your operation has been impacted by feed contamination, contact a lawyer for legal advice. There are statutes of limitations that govern how long you may have to file a lawsuit after the damage is recognized.