A WOODVALE poultry farmer who left more than 4500 chickens to die has received a $3000 fine and no conviction.
The farmer pleaded guilty to one charge of animal cruelty in the Bendigo Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
The court heard Department of Environment and Primary Industries inspectors attended the property north of Eaglehawk on April 15, 2013.
The inspectors found about 2000 chickens had died after an automated feeding system failed.
The court heard dead birds had been left among live birds in two sheds.
DEPI prosecutor Adrian Serratore told the court inspectors had encountered a "strong smell of decaying carcasses" and chickens engaging in cannibalism at the property.
He said the farmer had been feeding the chickens every 48 hours, when they needed to be fed every 24 hours.
"Inspectors took samples of live and deceased birds and found no trace of disease. The cause of death was protein calorie malnutrition," Mr Serratore said.
He said he had not encountered a case of this amount of dead chickens at a single property before.
The remaining birds died during a period of starvation that extended from February to April.
The court heard a further 451 birds died while being transported to Narre Warren.
The defence counsel told the court the farmer was under "extreme financial pressure" during the period and was $42,000 in debt.
He said margins were tight and the farmer was not receiving the normal market rate.
His role was to fatten chickens to 1.85 kilograms and then sell them back to the owner of the property.
The farmer had worked with chickens for 10 years and had been involved in livestock production for his entire working life.
Magistrate Patrick Southey said the situation could have been resolved had the farmer contacted DEPI when the problem became apparent.
"It's not the most serious example of an animal cruelty offence," he said.
"There are degrees of cruelty, but it is not like the farmer attacked animals. There were circumstances that he had no control over.
"The court has to send a message to others that instances of animal cruelty are taken seriously."
The farmer received a $3000 fine, $144.61 in costs and no conviction.