Dispute Filed Regarding Cattle Preconditioning Contract After 236 Cattle Died

In a complaint filed in the Southern District of Georgia on Tuesday, Blackdirt Farm Management LLC claimed that a contract for raising beef it agreed to was not being followed by the defendants, Chris Martin and Oak Lake Cattle Company Incorporated. The filing alleged the defendants had multiple violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act. The plaintiff alleged that this neglect resulted in the death of hundreds of cattle.

According to the filing, the plaintiff, Blackdirt, operates a farm in Georgia and the defendants are dealers; they buy cattle and then resell it, both parties do this for themselves and as an agent for cattle purchasers. Oak Lake is based in Florida and Martin resides in Kansas. 

The parties reportedly entered an agreement in September 2020, the plaintiff agreed to “precondition” 1,479 head of cattle owned by Martin, which consists of preparing recently weaned calves for feedlots. Blackdirt would keep cattle at its farm for 60 days, which would then be shipped to the Midwest to be resold and “finished” on a grain-based diet before being slaughtered. The preconditioning process, the complaint explained, helps the cattle’s immune systems and spreads out stressors like being weaned, vaccinated, and transported.  Oak Lake acquired the cattle on behalf of Martin and delivered them to the plaintiff. 

Under the parties’ agreement Blackdirt would be paid based on weight gained while at its farm. The plaintiff claimed that the cattle were supposed to arrive having been vaccinated and dewormed, but they had not.  Although Blackdirt completed the first vaccinations within the first 10 days of the cattle arriving, 13 calves had already died.  The agreement also included that the delivered cattle should not be known to be diseased or be showing symptoms, but the plaintiff claimed that the defendants had not tested whether the calves were diseased or injured, and did not take into account if the cattle had been exposed to diseased cattle while they were being obtained. 

Blackdirt alleged that the defendant’s neglected steps under the Packers and Stockyards Act which could have prevented the deaths of 236 cattle while being preconditioned at its farm and the sickness of “a significant number” of the cattle. The plaintiff said that compared to other times it has preconditioned cattle, these rates were higher than expected. He claimed that the defendants should have known that some of the cattle were diseased or injured, and did not “exercise reasonable and prompt care of the Cattle” before it came to the plaintiff’s farm. The complaint further alleged that the cattle shipped from Florida to its farm in Georgia were not suitable for the preconditioning, as the defendant had a duty to ensure. 

Allegedly, Martin should have covered the costs for treatment of the sick cattle, which cost the plaintiff $31,896.18. The plaintiff also claimed that Martin failed to pick up cattle within the estimated window because of inclement weather but still delivered calves, causing the farm to have more cattle than the farm was designed to handle. Additionally, the defendants did not hold to terms which were agreed to regarding the held-over cattle including paying for additional feed and efforts. 

The plaintiff claimed it was entitled to receive $314,373 for the services, and was only paid $138,676 up to this point and is owed $175,697. The plaintiff asked the court to require the defendants to pay the remaining funds and damages related to the dead and sick cattle, along with costs of litigation. 

The plaintiff is represented by Hall Booth Smith