SALEM, Ohio – Once might be a sick and freak occurrence, but twice is too close for comfort for Russell Rettger.
The Lake County dairyman is a victim of two separate attacks on his cow herd this summer, resulting in the death of three calves and a cow, plus injuries to two other cows.
Gruesome attack. According to filed sheriff’s reports, Rettger found a calf, less than 2 weeks old, dead in his barn at 4:45 a.m. May 26.
The calf had been beaten, and Rettger told the responding deputy the animal had been inside the barn all night.
“…The [calf’s] left front leg was badly deformed, and [wrapped] around the back of the [calf’s] head,” the deputy’s report said.
Upon closer inspection of the other animals in the barn, Rettger found others had injuries to their hind legs, including swelling and open wounds.
Not the first time. But it wasn’t the first time this had happened. The cow herd had also been attacked the previous weekend.
Rettger said he didn’t report that incident because he “wasn’t quite sure what had happened,” he said.
The first weekend, one calf, described by Rettger as appearing to have been beaten with a blunt object, eventually died from its injuries.
One cow with similar injuries aborted a pre-term stillborn calf, and later died from its injuries.
Rettger’s dead stock has been valued at $2,550, and injured stock has been valued at $3,000.
Sick and tired. Rettger is sickened at the thought of the attacks. He has noticed a drop in milk production and general skittishness in his 30-cow herd.
“I figured I’d be a lot higher in [milk] production right now with fresh cows, but I’m not. They’ve got bruised legs and aren’t getting around like they should,” he said.
“At night they don’t go far from the barn like they used to. A couple really don’t even want to come in the barn,” he said, noting portions of the attacks took place inside the barn.
No answers. Rettger told deputies on the scene that he’s had problems with teens trespassing and riding ATVs on his property. He recently told the teens he’d call the sheriff if they continued to trespass, according to reports.
Rettger believes the teens may be killing and injuring the livestock in retaliation for being told not to ride ATVs on his property, the report said.
But law enforcement doesn’t agree with Rettger’s theory.
“There are hundreds of people with ATVs in this area,” Detective Larry Harpster said. “Nothing has come of that so far. I don’t believe it’s related.”
Based on methods used, Harpster believes the perpetrators were “bigger” persons.
“A 10- or 12-year-old couldn’t do that, I don’t think,” he said.
Serious investigation. The Lake County sheriff is so serious about finding the culprits that the department has stepped up patrols in the area, particularly during nights and weekends, according to Harpster.
Though Harpster admitted the department has “no real good leads,” he said detectives and deputies are following up on a few tips.
This is the first incident of this type the department has dealt with, Harpster said.
Vandalism and animal cruelty charges will apply to the guilty party.
A little scared. Rettger admits he’s not sure how to feel about the attacks on his livelihood.
“It’s scary. We keep bringing our equipment home, we won’t leave anything in the fields,” he said, noting he’s had windows broken out of equipment left overnight.
“Other farmers and neighbors can’t believe this has happened. And they’re talking about putting in an allotment nearby, and things will just get worse. What are you going to do?” he said.
Reward. The Lake County Farm Bureau is working with the department in offering a $1,500 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Rettger is president of the county’s organization.
Anyone with information on the incident should call the Lake County Sheriff at 440-350-5533.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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