Sometimes, every option is distasteful
Gazette readers, both print and online, are understandably disturbed by recent news articles concerning an Indianola-area farmer/rancher who let his cattle starve. As one online comment put it, "Why would you even try and convey some understanding to this illegal act? How does anyone justify 111 deaths caused by neglect and cruelty (starvation)?"
The initial report of a neglected herd occurred on Jan. 13, and the Red Willow County Sheriff's Department and a Nebraska Brand Committee Investigator spent the next two weeks trying to convince the owner to properly feed his cattle and take them to the sale barn. After numerous excuses, the live cattle (146 head) were finally sold on Jan. 28 and the dead cattle (111 head) were ordered to be disposed of. The dead cattle were disposed of two months later on March 24.
Red Willow County officials entered into an agreement with the owner in late January to divest himself of the live cattle and properly dispose of the dead ones in exchange for no criminal prosecution. While the logistics and costs involved in actually prosecuting this case could have been enormous, one has to wonder at what point would the cruelty have been sufficient to warrant criminal prosecution. A large factor in the decision to not prosecute was that the county would have been responsible for feeding, medical care, and transportation costs for the 146 head of cattle that survived. If the herd was smaller and/or fewer head had survived, would the owner have been prosecuted?
There is another element to this story that has caused some concern. Is this farmer/rancher, Tom Brown, free to purchase more cattle and start a new herd? Or worse yet, can he possibly contract to feed someone else's cattle? Were there further stipulations in the agreement that would prevent future tragedies such as this one?
Red Willow County Attorney Paul Wood and Sheriff Gene Mahon released this statement concerning those questions: "At the time of the agreement, the owner of the cattle was advised that should another complaint be made and verified within the three year statute of limitation, violations that are the subject of the agreement would be prosecuted." Obviously, they had the same concern, and addressed that in their agreement.
We live in a farm economy and the majority of us understand that cattle production is not always pretty. Our producers are proud of their herds, and most would never consider doing anything to put that herd in jeopardy. It is a business and a huge investment for the producers. Some producers are better at it than others, as with any business.
County officials also understand the business aspects of raising cattle, and tried to bring this situation to a conclusion. The fact is that without their intervention, the death toll could have been much larger.
While we may not always like their decisions, we also must recognize that sometimes every option is terribly distasteful.