Authorities in central Minnesota have seized 47 cows from a dairy farm after they found the animals were eating feed mixed with urine and feces, and living in a barn that wasn't getting proper ventilation.
Owner Richard Yarke has 10 days to challenge the seizure, which was the result of an investigation of Yarke's farm near Sauk Centre that began last spring.
Investigators with the Animal Humane Society were concerned about the animals' welfare, because poor ventilation and dirty food and water can lead animals to become dehydrated and emaciated.
"All those additional stressors cause more serious health-related complications," said Keith Streff, investigator for the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley.
Streff said officials had tried to help Yarke reduce his herd to a manageable size. But authorities could no longer leave the cows in those conditions, especially with winter coming, he said.
"There's just a whole contributing number of factors that (were) driving this farm and these animals to the point of disaster," Streff said, describing Yarke as an aging dairy farmer who was no longer able to care for the animals on his own. Financial constraints and a wet spring exacerbated the poor conditions on the farm, he said.
The Stearns County Sheriff's Office continues to investigate, but Yarke has so far not been charged with a crime.
"I think he just had gotten to a point where things had just gotten out of control for him," county spokeswoman Janet Midas said. "It's not like he was intentionally harming these animals."
Midas said the cows were taken to a nearby farm and are expected to survive.
After the 10-day period, Stearns County will own the animals. Money the county gets from selling the animals will be used to pay for the care of the animals and other expenses. Any extra will go back to Yarke, Midas said.