Mystery predator kills goats at Rutland County farm

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BENSON, Vt. (WCAX) A Rutland County farmer is living a nightmare after discovering last Sunday that 13 of her meat goats were gone and seven were found dead. But just what killed the animals remains a mystery.

A Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist visited Falkenbury Farm in Benson Tuesday but was unsuccessful finding tracks from the predator. The farm's Jacki Ambrozaitis says seven of the goats were found dead Thursday but that six remain missing.

The dead goats had bite marks on their heads and broken necks but otherwise were completely intact. Wildlife officials say if the goats were killed by a cat, they would have scratch marks, but there are no scratches. And because their bodies are intact, the hunter wasn't looking for food.

Vermont Game Warden Lt. Justin Stedman says that makes domestic dogs the likely suspect. "It's like your house cat playing with a ball of yarn. To them, it's like they're playing, so they go out and things run, so they grab it and they shake it and it dies and then they go chase the next one," he said.

But the warden isn't sure because some of the dead goats were large. Vermont Game Warden Spc. Robert Sterling says a dog or a wild coyote could be the killer. "We don't know for sure if it was domestic or wild, however the indications from the animals that I've seen leads towards it could be a wild coyote," he said.

State wildlife officials granted the family permission to set traps out of trapping season to hopefully catch the predator. "They'll use a foot-hold style trap so if the animal turned out to not be a wild animal, that it wouldn't harm it, it would simply be able to be identified so they could find the animal that might be damaging the property and then it would safely be released," Sterling said.

As for the six missing goats, officials say they were either killed and eaten or ran off. "If anyone were to see some goats roaming around, definitely call the state police in New Haven, or call fish and wildlife, or if you know the farmer -- they're from the area -- to call them," Lt. Stedman said.

Ambrozaitis says there is one neighbor with a dog who walks by, but it's always on a leash. Other neighbors know their dogs are not welcome on the farm.

The 25 or so goats that survived are being kept in the barn. Ambrozaitis says she hates to see them cooped up, but since the attack was during the day, she's afraid to put them out in the pasture.