Farmer in contaminated raw milk case takes the stand

Dead owl
A dead owl the Agriculture department said was found in the milk barn at the Hartmann dairy farm. The photo is part of the case file compiled by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture against the Hartmann farm.
Photo Courtesy of the Minn. Department of Agriculture

The dairy farmer accused of selling E. coli-contaminated raw milk took the witness stand Tuesday, and provided explanations for some of the bird carcasses and other unsanitary conditions state officials say they found.

State inspectors searched Michael Hartmann's farm near Gibbon, Minn. and embargoed most of his products after linking the operation to an E. coli outbreak that sickened eight people.

Hartmann said investigators found dead chickens and an owl carcass in the dairy barn because stray dogs had killed more than 100 chickens on his farms in the days before the state inspection.

He said he kept a few of the dead chickens as evidence to show the sheriff.

Under questioning from his own attorney, Hartmann said he was waiting up one night for the dogs to return when he saw the owl near the chickens and shot it. He said he kept the remains to show his grandchildren.

Hartmann disputed the state inspectors' contention there was a dead calf near the milking barn. But Hartmann attorney Zenas Baer argued what the state claims is a photo of the animal, shows nothing that looks like a calf.

Hartmann dairy barn
A photo of the exterior of the Hartmann dairy barn in Gibbon, Minn.
Courtesy Minnesota Department of Agriculture

"Wouldn't you think that a person who is trained as a veterinarian would have been more astute to go there and maybe take a photograph that you could actually see a feature of a calf?" Baer said.

On the witness stand, Michael Hartmann testified there was no dead calf near the barn when the state inspectors visited the farm. The state investigated Hartmann after linking an E. coli outbreak to unpasteurized milk sold by Hartmann.

A state dairy inspector has called Hartmann's operation "shoddy" and unsanitary, with rodent droppings, and manure contamination in the dairy facilities.

Hartmann disputes the state's contention that his farm is the source of the E. coli outbreak, and has asked a Sibley County District Court to lift the embargo, so he can resume selling cheese, ice cream and other products.

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