SAGUACHE COUNTY — Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick had been aware of Jerry Brown’s cows breaking through fences to eat another rancher’s feed in January, but he didn’t realize how severely neglected the herd was until he saw videos and visited the pasture on Jan. 28. With the help of local ranchers and officials from multiple agencies, Warwick started feeding the animals before sunset.
A month later, more of the herd have died, and Sheriff Warwick continues to care for the estimated 200 head of cattle. In the meantime, he met Brown near the pasture on Feb. 1 while waiting to meet with an agent from the Brand Inspector’s Office, an agent with the Bureau of Animal Protection and a veterinarian from the Colorado Veterinarian’s Office.
Warwick told Brown, 68, how he fed the animals through the weekend and would charge him with Cruelty to Animals. On Feb. 3, Warwick filed a “Notice and Payment for Cost of Care for Animals” in Saguache County Court.
The story started for the sheriff before midnight on Jan. 25. Warwick received an email with concerns about Brown’s cows. The sheriff followed up first thing in the morning and began contacting multiple agencies for guidance handling an unusual case. Warwick confirmed the reports of several dead cows two days later when he received footage and visited the pasture to see more dead cattle on the ground.
Warwick counted 11 dead cows during daily visits with food and hay. On Feb. 7, he noticed two cows down but not dead. Neither cow could stand on Feb. 8, and one of them died on Feb. 9.
On Feb. 10, Warwick carried a bucket of water and hay to the downed cow, which he estimated to be about a year old. The bulk of the herd clustered almost a mile away, and the lone calf was surrounded by dead carcasses and circling predators. Before sunset, Warwick loaded the calf in his truck and chauffeured it to a safe residence with two bags of pellet feed and fresh water.
Evaluating animal health follows the same method gymnastics judges use. On a scale of 1–10 with “10” being perfect health, experts from two agencies ranked the bulk of Brown’s herd at the bottom. Representing the State Veterinarian’s Office, Dr. Carl Heckendorf said most of the cows rated “1” or “2” with possibly a handful of “3s.” Kathy Sorensen from the Farm Service Agency said she saw mostly “1s.”
On Feb. 1, Warwick told Sorensen he would be impounding the cattle but leaving the relatively healthy horses. Perhaps a dozen mingled with the cows, but their ability to dig gives them access to foliage that cows can’t reach. However, Brown will still be required to move the horses. Sorensen said she would seek reimbursement and future care of the animals.
In addition to feeding the animals, the sheriff took other measures to help as calving season approaches. On Feb. 15, Warwick bought fencing materials to gather the herd in a 10-acre area. He also purchased two 250-pound tubs of a 30-percent protein mix for the cows and two 50-pound salt trace mineral blocks. The items cost money, but the sheriff put up the fence himself.
Saving the herd takes top priority, and few calves can realistically survive if their mothers are struggling. Brown said they’ve been bred and are scheduled to calve in July. In the meantime, the cows are on private property, and Warwick is providing hay and supplemental nutrition. He also borrowed an 800-gallon stock tank from the United States Forest Service and purchased extra hoses to reach the cows.
During a Show Cause Hearing on Feb. 10, Brown did not contest the cost of care or the cow impoundment. Dr. Heckendorf initially recommended two tons of hay a day. During cold winter months, a cow will usually eat all 30 pounds of feed received. Brown’s cows have been receiving about 12 pounds daily since the end of January, and they rarely consume it all.
The projected price to care for the herd up to Feb. 24 was $14,006. This includes $2,800 for labor and transportation and other completed purchases — $295 for protein and mineral feed, $206 for fencing supplies and $139 for hoses. The biggest item — $10,530 for 81 bales of hay — will continue to grow.
Brown said his arrangements with a feed supplier fell through in January, and his cows quickly suffered.
If citizens in the San Luis Valley recognize animals in poor health, they can call 719-691-4435 to contact Gerald Garcia, the Field Inspector for the Colorado Humane Society and SPCA.