About 70 rotting animal carcasses and knee-deep muck surrounded five skeletal cattle found starving last fall across two Livingston County locations.
Now the survivors have a bright future.
"They are phenomenally better than when we got them," said Dorothy Davies, co-owner of the Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals, a Manchester farm in Washtenaw County that adopted the cows, along with three rescued pigs.
The grisly discovery, which included many carcasses rotted to bone, was reported in November by the Livingston Daily. At the time, the location of the surviving animals was kept secret because of a pending animal-cruelty case against the properties' owner, Keith Edwin Huck Jr., 61, of Cohoctah Township.
He's to be sentenced March 12 in 53rd District Court after taking a plea deal on four misdemeanor charges (animal abandonment, failing to bury a dead animal, stray dog and unlicensed dog) with a maximum penalty of 93 days in jail. His sentencing had been scheduled for Monday, but it was adjourned; Livingston County Prosecutor William Vailliencourt didn't immediately respond to a voice mail Monday requesting comment on the postponement.
Davies, who has been rescuing animals for more than 30 years, said the cows were in the worst condition she has ever seen when the organization took custody of them on Sept. 29. The rescuers arrived to find cows wading through manure, mud and corpses.
"They were extremely bony," she said. "Their ribs looked like you'd cut yourself with your hand, they were so sticking out."
It is unclear how the cows died, the Livingston Daily reported.
"If they die, they're not worth anything," Davies said. "Why would somebody just let them keep dying? It was really bad."
Editor's note: video depicts graphic details inappropriate for children. Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals staff describe what they found on a Livingston County farm where 70 dead cows were found.Gillis Benedict/Livingston Daily
She estimates the cows to be about 5 years old. At Davies' farm, they'll never face slaughter, living perhaps 10 or more years.
"They hang out together, they'll make friends," said Davies, whose farm includes cows, goats, emus and more. "I will suspect these cows will probably stay near each other the rest of their lives."
This cow, pictured Sept. 29, 2017, was one of five found wading in muck that included dead carcasses at two Livingston County locations. The surviving cows were rescued and are recovering at Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals in Manchester. Sanctuary and Safe Haven for Animals
The Livingston Daily reported that one of the properties was in the 4000 block of West Hayner, and the other was identified only by its tax ID number, about a half-mile away.
Davies said four of the cows were at one location, and they were standing in muck with four dead animals "floating around in that mess, that had started to sink in."
Hay was within sight, but they couldn't reach it from their pen, she said. At the other property, one cow was isolated among more carcasses.
"The barn floor was totally covered with bones," Davies said. "You really couldn't walk without stepping on someone. There was 'crunch-crunch' the whole way. It was horrible."
She said it appeared the cows went unfed through the summer. She also said that while she disagrees with eating animals, the way these were treated was "just wrong."
"I said to our vet, 'You've probably seen stuff like this before,' and he said, 'No, never this bad,' " Davies said, adding that on a scale of "one-to-five," with "one" being the worst, he said they were a "one."
She said the steers (male cattle) hadn't been properly castrated, and they'll need surgery. They need a series of injections and blood work, and some of the caked-on muck still needs to be rinsed off their bodies — something she didn't want to do in winter, possibly causing them stress in the cold. Their hooves also need trimming, but otherwise, they're in good health, eating about $100 worth of hay per day.
"They're happy," she said. "They're a little standoffish still. But they're going to be OK, I think. ... The rest of their life, they will be loved, cared for and fed, and hopefully they don't have long memories about what their start in life was."
The pigs were in a tiny pen at the location where four of the cows were found, Davies said. They were piglets, perhaps a couple months old. They had no food or water, she said, adding that someone must have been occasionally providing them water.
"They seem quite healthy," she said.
Huck was originally charged with abandoning or cruelty to 10 or more animals, a four-year felony, along with the misdemeanors. Under the plea agreement, he faces up to two years probation or 93 days in jail but he will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea if the judge sentences him to jail time, the Livingston Daily reported.
Attorney Rebecca Roberts, reported to be representing Huck, did not immediately respond to a voice mail seeking comment.
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