Thirty-nine beef cattle in Bakersfield got a surprise visit from police and state officials Friday. They responded to a pasture on Joyal Road after the town constable called with allegations of abuse.
"Well, there's one dying and we walked the perimeter and there's absolutely no water," said Jim Billado, the Bakersfield constable.
A local livestock vet examined each animal and told police a few were thin and one needed to be euthanized on the spot due to hypothermia. According to state law, cattle owners are required to provide adequate access to food, water and shelter. The vet said these cows lacked all three.
"Digging for blades of grass under two feet of snow is not feed. Snow is not considered a water source. Trees are considered a shelter, but they don't have access to any of the trees," Dr. Rick Bartholomew said.
"I don't need someone badgering me for no reason and I consider this close to badgering," said Gary Barnes, who co-owns the cattle with Todd Brown.
Barnes and Brown say one of them tends to the herd every day, moving them from field to field to ensure they can forage for feed.
Todd Brown: They've basically eaten down probably five acres worth of 17-inch tall grass. It's got three feet of snow on it, so they have to work for it, but there's a lot of grass here still.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: Why not just give them hay at that point?
Todd Brown: Because it's expensive feed.
Plus these farmers say winter grazing yields better beef and prevents their cows from standing in their own feces. Although they admit the practice is controversial, they don't believe it's abuse.
"The conventional way is to barn the cow up, is to spend thousands of dollars for the hay in the barn, so you can spend thousands of dollars hauling (feces) out all winter," Barnes said.
"I'd like to see these animals taken from this guy. He doesn't deserve to have them," Billado said.
Barnes told police he plans to move these cows to a farm, but would not say where. In the meantime the case is being referred to the state's attorney's office.
Jennifer Reading: What is your reaction that you could even face a criminal charge in this?
Gary Barnes: I find it unbelievable. Unbelievable when I look at all the abuse that actually does go on. I don't consider my animals abused at all.
There's no timetable for prosecutors to wrap up their investigation.