ORRINGTON, Maine — Everybody in town knows the cattle owned by Herbert “Herbie” Henderson, 79, are escape artists who have run amok for years.
Complaints to town officials and law enforcement, as well as tickets and fines, have done little to solve the problem of renegade cows causing property damage and scaring people.
Henderson was spurred into action Thursday by a threat from the state’s Agriculture Department to seize the cows if certain requirements weren’t met by April 1.
The longtime cattle wrangler agreed to sell off his herd of 70 or so bovines, his son Dale Henderson said Thursday afternoon. The buyers are expected to start moving the cows on Monday or Tuesday.
“This is a major good thing for everybody, including him,” the younger Henderson said. “The best thing for him and the town is to have this happen. It will be a whole lot better for everybody.”
Complaints from neighbors and town officials prodded state agriculture officials in December to inspect the Henderson farm near the junction of Dow Road and Center Drive and issue Herbie Henderson a list of items to fix.
Inspectors from the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health visited on Feb. 19 and found thin and starving animals, some whose feet and legs were entangled in strands of fence wire, and ordered Henderson to implement several “best management practices.”
Those included providing adequate feed, fresh water, salt and minerals, improving fencing, separating the different age groups to minimize bullying, and, to prevent sickness, cleaning up or blocking off the waste-contaminated path his cows use to get to a nearby stream.
The state gave Henderson an April 1 deadline to make those changes.
“Herbert has not made any progress,” Mark Hedrich, the Agriculture Department’s nutrient management coordinator, said on Wednesday. “It appears the best solution to the situation is removal of the cattle from Herbert’s control, which is our current goal.”
The state was preparing to go to the Henderson farm to remove the animals early next week, Dale Henderson said. If for some reason his father changes his mind and decides not to sell, the younger Henderson fully expects the state to move forward with its plans to seize the malnourished animals.
“He’s certainly not capable of taking care of them anymore,” Hedrich said, adding, “Our ultimate goal is to get the cattle out of there.”
His father is upset with him because “I told him they did not have enough food,” Dale Henderson said. “Now he won’t even talk to me. He just starts screaming. He’s too old to take care of them. He’s 80 years old June 30.”
The younger Henderson said he installed electric fencing worth $10,000, which helped keep the cows penned for a while. He said he has offered to buy the cattle from his father, the last time for $25,000, which is more than twice what they are worth, but his father won’t sell to him.
“I put a brand new fence up around it and what does he do? He unplugs it,” Dale Henderson said. “My father is as stubborn as they come. He’s struck me down every time I’ve tried to help.”
Dale Henderson said he thinks his father is a hoarder and for that reason refuses to give up the animals he considers his pets. The cattle in his care deserve better treatment, he said.
“This is going to come to an end one way or the other,” he said.
Because the farm was deemed noncompliant with state laws, the senior Henderson was told in a March 4 letter from Hedrich that he could be fined and that his animals could be seized after the April 1 deadline.
“Under this action, you would receive no remuneration for the animals and also would be required to reimburse the State of Maine for all costs” associated with collecting, impounding and disposal of the livestock, Hedrich wrote.
Local officials and neighbors just want the cattle off town roads and their property.
“My concern is the public safety and the safety of my staff trying to keep these cows in,” Town Manager Paul White said.
The renegade cows drove residents to pen an ordinance endorsed at last year’s annual town meeting that allows the town to impound loose livestock, fine the owners and sell them after seven days.
Neighbor Scott Welch, who has complained to the town and law enforcement numerous times about the cattle being in his yard, helped to write the new ordinance.
Even with the new rules, “My wife and I, as adjacent land owners, continue to be the recipients of animal trespass by Mr. Henderson’s cattle (sometimes as many as 26 head),” he wrote in a recent e-mail, which included photos of the trespassing cows.
Carla Brown, the town’s animal control officer, reported to the state’s Agriculture Department on Jan. 22, Feb. 11 and Feb. 15 about the loose cows and conditions of the Henderson farm.
The complaints “indicate that many of the cattle were thin, unthrifty and receiving inadequate quantity and quality of feed,” the report states, and that “one cow had died on an ice patch in the pasture.”
Brown said Herbie Henderson always has cooperated with efforts to get his cows back into his pastures, noting that sometimes it took awhile.
“We’re making goals and making progress and trying to get this thing rectified,” she said.
If the cows leave on Monday or Tuesday as scheduled, the long-running issue will be resolved, but if not, “the state will have to come take them immediately,” Dale Henderson said. “He can’t take care of them.”