- Ag Docket
The plaintiffs entered into a grazing contract with the defendant to graze the plaintiffs' cattle on the defendant's ranch. The contract required the defendant to provide adequate grass and water "as nature shall provide" as well as feed and mineral according to the nutritional needs of the cattle. The contract also required the defendant to monitor the condition of the cattle and provide veterinary care as needed, and otherwise optimize the quality of the grass for the cattle. The defendant also was required to provide labor for handling the cattle. However, the cattle started to be unable to stand and the defendant's ranch manager had a veterinarian check the cattle. The veterinarian diagnosed malnutrition and prescribed a magnesium solution and more food. The ranch manager followed the instruction and the cattle improved. The plaintiffs placed additional cattle on the ranch, but there was a pneumonia outbreak that afflicted the calves that was only partially treated. In addition, the cattle were not rotational grazed, had insufficient grass and lost significant weight. The plaintiffs sued for damages and the trial court determined, based on the evidence, that the average conception rate for the cows would have been 92 percent, but that the rate for the plaintiffs' cows was 83 percent. The body scores of the cattle (degree of flesh on a cow) was also well below average. Two bulls died after leaving the ranch and two others had to be sold for salvage value. The trial court determined that the defendant breached the grazing contract and awarded $240,416.90 in damages as compensation for the reduced value of the open cows, the lost value of calves never conceived, the costs associated with rehabilitating the body condition of the bulls and cows, the lost value of dead and salvaged bulls and the reduced value of stocker cattle that did not put on the expected weight. On appeal, the Court of Appeals, dismissed one of the plaintiffs for lack of standing because that plaintiff's cattle were actually owned by his entities, not by him personally. In all other respects the court upheld the trial court's determinations. On further review, the Supreme Court affirmed. The court flatly rejected the defendant's claim that all the grazing contract required him to do was "supply water and grass as nature availed." Instead, the contract clearly required the defendant to provide veterinary care, monitor the condition of the cattle and provide food and minerals according to the needs of the cattle, and manage the grazing to optimize grass quality. The Court upheld the damage award as determined by the Court of Appeals, after dismissing one of the plaintiffs for lack of standing. Damages were awarded for the difference in value between an open and bred cow (the market calf after factoring for risk and costs) at the lower than expected conception rate, but not for calves that were never conceived. The damage award also included an amount for costs associated with rehabilitating the body condition of the cattle (i.e., putting on weight). The plaintiff was also entitled to damages reflecting the cost of virgin 2 year-old bulls because there was no market for used bulls due to the risk of spreading venereal disease. Eilert, et al. v. Ferrell, No. 107,359, 2015 Kan. LEXIS 356 (Kan. Sup. Ct. Jun. 5, 2015).
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