Investigation continues into Ontario-to-Ohio ‘cownapping’ melodrama


SALEM, Ohio – A prize-winning Holstein remains quarantined after mysteriously appearing in an Urbana, Ohio, dairy barn earlier this month.

The cow, Donnek Pearl Skychief, or Pearl, is at the center of an international custody battle between Chris Nelson of Urbana and John Martin of Woodstock, Ontario.

Nelson refused twice to comment to Farm and Dairy. The cow, due to freshen in mid-February, is currently housed at his farm.

Disagree. The two men share ownership of the cow but disagree on where it should be housed.

Nelson bought Pearl from Martin in 2000 for $65,000 but sold a share back to him when the cow would not conceive.

“I think he was frustrated with looking after the cow. Unfortunately he was there and I was here, and there was nothing I could do,” Martin said.

The cow was shipped back to the Martin’s Marthaven Holsteins in February 2002 and then became pregnant through artificial insemination.

That’s when Nelson wanted her back, according to Martin.

Not so great. “I thought things were going along great,” regarding the verbal partnership agreement, Martin said.

But in September 2002, Nelson and his wife, Joyce, showed up at the Canadian farm, demanding to check the cow for pregnancy themselves.

“He came in here calling us a bunch of lying Canadians. I thought, what kind of weirdo is this?” Martin said.

In November, Nelson repeatedly called the Martins and demanded they ship the cow back to Ohio.

“It had been two years since this cow had calved, so I thought it was best to keep the cow here with my vet to supervise.

“If she aborted, we’ve got nothing again,” he said.

Bring her back. Nelson made a trip to Canada in late November, again trying to bring the cow back to his farm.

Airing his concerns, Martin wondered what would happen with the partnership and cow if, after calving, her appearance declined and she wasn’t such a prized show cow.

That’s when Nelson said that was the reason he had life insurance on Pearl, according to Martin.

“After that, I was enraged and wanted to know what was going on,” he said.

Lawsuit. Nelson filed a lawsuit in a Canadian court in December claiming full ownership of the cow and seeking $50,000 in damages for harassment.

The judge ruled that the ownership agreement was struck in Canada, so the cow should stay with the Martins.

Then the cow disappeared in January, and Martin has no doubt that Nelson was behind it.

Filing charges. Canadian authorities are looking at the possibility of filing charges against Nelson, but none are serious enough for him to be extradited for trial, Martin said.

Martin is optimistic that the USDA will come down hard on Nelson and send the cow back to Canada.

Prized cow. Pearl’s past honors include supreme, senior and grand champion at the 2001 Mid East Spring National Holstein Show and reserve grand champion at the 2000 World Dairy Expo.

November 2002 Holstein Canada data ranks Pearl 62nd in the country’s Top 100 cows for conformation.

Across the border. “We’re working with the Canadian food and agriculture department on this,” said Melanie Wilt, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

“[The cow] doesn’t have a certificate of veterinary inspection. This is a border issue,” she said of the apparent smuggling.

“The fact that you can get something that size across the border [without the proper paperwork] is a concern to anyone,” Martin said.

The ODA and USDA continue to investigate.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at


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