July 25, 2012 - Roger Ingles bought five calves and three goats at an animal auction June 28. He says he has been harassed by Oakland County Animal Control regularly since.
Oakland County Animal Control, which investigates animal cruelty complaints, has been out to see him and the animals one to three times a week since June 29, said Ingles.
"I don't think I'm being treated fairly by animal control or the county commission, which has rejected my appeal for an agricultural tax exemption," he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Brandon Township resident, realtor, and former contractor invited witnesses to property he owns in Orion Township where he is keeping the animals, minus one of the goats, who disappeared a little more than a week ago. Also paying a visit were four uniformed Oakland County Animal Control officers, as well as Larry Obrecht, manager of the Oakland County Animal Shelter.
Obrecht said he couldn't comment on any specific case that is currently being investigated.
The animals are being kept in a fenced-in area that Ingles estimates to be about 1 acre. The barbed wire fence is stepped over by human visitors. Inside isn't your typical pasture. The area is a woodlot, with numerous trees providing shade from the sun. The ground is uneven, and the landscape features downed trees, weeds and brush, as well as numerous piles of manure. Cows ranging in age from 2-and-a-half months to 6-months-old stand about when the visitors first arrive and later lie down in a tight-knit group near a pen that Ingles has erected to put them in at night to keep them from coyotes. A 5-gallon All laundry detergent bucket is half-filled with water nearby.
The two remaining goats are tethered to a stake by cables Ingles said are 20-25 feet in length and in a manner that he describes as similar to tying out dogs. The goats have two 5-gallon buckets partially filled with water within reach. One of the buckets formerly held Mobil lubricant compound. A dish of food is also within reach. The cable for one of the goats is caught around a mound of dirt/brush and Ingles lifts it off. He says the goats don't get tangled and if the cable gets hung up on something "they figure it out."
Ingles shows copies of two citations he has received from the Oakland County Animal Division. The citations are for animal cruelty, he said, but the reasons are illegible. He believes it may be because two of the animals were found in the ditch next to Baldwin Road before the fence was completed. Or maybe, he adds, it's because they are concerned about the goats being tethered. Ingles insists, however, this is not a cruel practice and they can't choke themselves.
He shows receipts for food he has purchased for the animals, including cracked corn, hay, calf starter and sweet feed. Ingles says he comes out to check on the animals two to four times per day, feeding and refilling their water.
"This has gotten so out of control, it's unreal," he said.
Ingles bought the 44-acre parcel of land, which he said hasn't been farmed since 1972, in September for just $20,000. He listed the property for sale himself a short time later at a price of $150,000. The property was assessed at $320,000, giving it a value of $640,000. His property taxes are at least $18,000, which he is contesting, and he has sought the tax exemption, which would give him a roughly $6,000 break, to no avail. He said he missed the deadline to file for the exemption by one day.
The tax exemption is one of the reasons he bought the animals, Ingles said. The other reason was to make money by selling the cattle for beef. He plans to give the goats to some Muslim clients who eat goat meat. He also plans to obtain 10 more cows to raise for beef, build a lean-to for a shelter for his current cows by November, and expand the fenced-in area as a way for the animals to clear the land of brush.
According to the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMP) for Beef Cattle and Bison (see www.michigan.gov/agriculture), "when behavioral and physiological characteristics of cattle are matched to local conditions, cattle thrive in virtually any natural environment in Michigan without artificial shelter. Protection, however, may be beneficial, especially for newborns, during adverse weather conditions. Cattle reside on pastures and woodlots, in small drylot facilities, in a variety of different types of feedlots, and in confinement."
Bridget Patrick, risk communications specialist for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development noted that livestock are hardy animals.
"These are not dogs, or pets, and they are quite hardy," she said, speaking generally and not referring to any specific case. "It's a matter of making sure they get what they need."
GAAMP provides guidelines and standards to farmers raising livestock, and the document states, "feed and water should be presented to cattle in ways that minimize contamination by urine, feces, and other materials. Feed bunks, where used, should be monitored and kept clean. Cattle should have frequent access to a source of water. When continuous access to water is not possible, water should be available for 30 minutes each day, or more frequently depending on weather conditions, amount of feed consumed, and level of production of the animals... Cattle on pasture and woodlots are often monitored less directly and less frequently than cattle raised in other systems. Cattle in woodlot and pasture systems are more likely to be affected by weather, predators, insects, internal and external parasites, poisonous plants, and variation in feed supply. Hot or extremely cold weather is stressful and special accommodations may be needed..."
Provided with a description of the conditions Ingle's animals are being kept in, Dr. Steve Halstead, state veterinarian with Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development had some concerns, including fencing, the potential for goats to become tangled on brush, and the necessity for food in front of the animals constantly.
"They've evolved to be constantly grazing," Halstead noted. "Brush is generally not proper food for cattle. Goats can eat anything. Some of those plants could be toxic or harmful."
Halstead added that a 5-gallon container of water for cattle isn't much when the weather is in the 95-degree temperature range and humid, although it may be all right if Ingles is constantly visiting.
"It depends on the husbandry being provided," Halstead said. "A lot of farms have water (containers) that allow only one cow to drink at a time, but it's kept full... It takes a lot of oversight, a lot of attention, and it would be easy to fall behind, especially if the water gets tipped over or a plastic bucket gets broken... It depends on the attentiveness and resources of the person... This situation sounds unconventional and that would cause me to be concerned."
For more information on the proper care of livestock, Halstead recommends visiting the Michigan State University Extension website at www.msue.msu.edu.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville