A man is facing animal cruelty charges after 230 cows were found to be starving in the middle of calving season including 65 that already had died.
Authorities learned of the starving Black Angus from people who drove by the property and saw dead cows, Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said.
“This is a big disaster,” Slaughter said Tuesday.
Slaughter said about 65 animals have died, although authorities still are checking to see if more have succumbed. Some of the surviving animals are pregnant.
“Some of these moms, you could walk right up to,” Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Quick said. “They couldn’t get up they were so weak.”
The property is located off of Mission Road between Cascade and Simms about 40 miles southwest of Great Falls.
George J. Savoy, 57, was charged with aggravated animal cruelty and taken into custody Tuesday, Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki said.
Racki said he also planned to file an animal welfare petition, a step needed to seize and care for the herd and possibly recoup money the county spends.
But Racki told Cascade County Commissioners during an emergency meeting called Tuesday morning to address the starving animals not to count on getting repaid.
Officials with the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, Public Works and Montana Department of Livestock rushed to the scene Tuesday afternoon to assess the situation.
Feed was arranged and was on the way. Authorities were also figuring out what do with the carcasses.
Paul Johnson, a livestock investigator for the Montana Department of Livestock’s Great Falls district, said the cows were severely underweight.
Johnson said it was the worst case of animal cruelty involving cattle that he had encountered. “I haven’t seen one this bad,” he said.
Slaughter said the county will likely need to care for the cattle for at least a month.
The cost of feeding them for a month could be $27,000 and Slaughter said the expense could be much higher, between $50,000 to $100,000, when other costs are factored in such as hiring somebody to care for the animals and moving them.
“I know this community is going to want to help,” Slaughter said. “And you know what? We need their help.”
The county is accepting financial donations at the Sheriff’s Office at 3800 N. Ulm Frontage Road and taking questions at 406-454-6820. Feed can be dropped off at Cascade Solid Waste Site on the Simms-Cascade Road two miles west of Cascade.
The most immediate tasks Tuesday were to get the cows fed and removing dead animals that were in a stream, Slaughter said.
When authorities arrived at the property they found a grisly scene.
The air stunk and the underweight cows bellowed relentlessly.
Some calves wandered slowly around by themselves.
Bloated bodies of dead animals, their black hides splotched with bird droppings, were strewn across the landscape. Some cows had been cut open for necropsies.
“Sad situation,” Undersheriff Cory Reeves said.
Slaughter said no explanation had been given yet for the cause of the catastrophe.
There may be more dead cattle. Authorities said three additional properties where Savoy kept cows are being checked now
“It’s grazed down to the dirt,” Capt. Scott Van Dyken of the Sheriff’s Department said of the land where the 230 starving cattle were discovered.
Commissioners gave the go-ahead for the Sheriff’s Office and Public Works, which was called in to assist with moving the dead cattle, to look into hiring somebody to care for the cattle and arranging feed.
“We have to do the humane thing and feed these animals as soon as possible,” Commissioner Jane Weber said.
“Talk about lousy timing for something like this,” added Commissioner Joe Briggs, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Jeez,” said Commission Chairman Jim Larson, a rancher.
Karl Puckett covers the city of Great Falls and Cascade County for the Tribune. He can be reached at kpuckett@greatfallstribune or 406-791-1471, or on Twitter at @GFTrib_KPuckett.
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