August 24, 2019
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Alleged ‘mass execution’ of animals at Maine farm spurred state action

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Maine animal welfare agents removed three pig carcases from Ireland Hill Farms in Swanville as they executed a search warrant at the farm Wednesday. The agents are investigating alleged animal abuse at the farm.

A Waldo County farmer whose dead pigs were exhumed this week by agents from the Maine Animal Welfare Program had long been on the radar of animal control agents due to complaints of alleged abuse and neglect of his cows, pigs and pet dog, according to an affidavit filed Friday afternoon at Belfast District Court.

But this Tuesday, state officials acted fast when they heard chilling reports from both a local animal control officer and from one of Jerry Ireland’s neighbors, who cried as she told them that the farmer was “shooting all the animals and burying them” at Ireland Hill Farms in Swanville. The neighbor told Rae-Ann Demos, a humane agent with the Animal Welfare Program, that it was the second time that Ireland had conducted a “mass execution” of the animals on his property.

The alleged shooting happened just a day before Ireland had agreed to let the agents onto his property to check on the conditions of the animals.

After hearing about the alleged shootings, officials sought and received a warrant to search Ireland’s property. By mid-morning on Wednesday, they had assembled at the farm on Nickerson Road, armed with shovels and a backhoe to see what they could find there.

According to the animal seizure identification log on file at court, they dug up five dead Mangalitsa sows, some of which were buried next to a cabin on the property, and some of which were buried in a pasture. They also removed a Mangalitsa pig that was found alive in the barn.

“It is not a crime to humanely euthanize one’s own animals,” Demos wrote in the affidavit. “However, due to the uncooperative behavior Mr. Ireland has exhibited over the last few months by denying access to check on the animals, not returning phone call requests and flat out kicking officers off his property, and after speaking with neighbors who have confirmed the lack of care taking place on the property for days to weeks on end, I feel Mr. Ireland’s decision to execute all his animals just one day prior to my scheduled inspection leads me to believe he is covering up proof these animals may very well have been emaciated due to lack of consistent feeding and care.”

She wrote that she wanted to search warrant to remove any live, dead or unborn animals from the property that “are being or have been deprived” of food, shelter and humanely clean conditions.

No charges have been filed against Ireland, who told the BDN earlier this week that the state’s actions would be proven “frivolous” in court. He also said that he did not believe the investigation into the welfare of his animals happened because of legitimate concerns. Last November he said, in a Facebook message, that he was in a long-running dispute with the state about what he was feeding his pigs. He said he was feeding them potatoes, hay and forage, but that state officials wanted them to be fed grain and that he didn’t know how the situation was going to end.

When reached by telephone Friday afternoon after the affidavit was released, he said only that there would be a press release issued Friday night.

“That’s all I’ve got to say,” Ireland said.

According to the affidavit, it was cows and not pigs that first triggered Demos’s attention last November, when the state agent was contacted by Swanville Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood.

According to the affidavit, some of Ireland’s cows had gotten loose and had been at large for two weeks. Blood told Demos that she was having a hard time working with Ireland, who was unwilling to comply with her notices, return her phone calls and text messages or allow her onto the property. Demos asked Blood to continue trying to work with Ireland to capture the cows and resolve the situation. But the next week, Blood told the state agent Ireland was still refusing to work with her and in fact denied owning the cows.

Other local farmers eventually captured the cows and kept them on their property until state agents could check them out. Initially, Ireland wanted them returned to him, Demos wrote.

“I explained to him that the cows had been running at large for two weeks and that they had done damage to many neighbor’s properties, and if he wanted them back he would be required to pay for capturing and boarding services and would also be charged with animals at large,” Demos wrote in the affidavit. “He then stated he did not own the cows and that they belonged to the [United Farmer Veterans of Maine]. I asked who the president was and he stated he was the president. I explained to him that he was responsible for the animals.”

United Farmer Veterans of Maine is a non-profit group that aims to help Maine veterans who want to be or have become farmers. Ireland is the chief executive officer and president of the group.

Ultimately, Ireland decided to surrender the cows to the state. Meanwhile, Demos and Blood went to Ireland Hill Farms to see what they could learn about the other animals there. From the road, they saw two cows and several pigs.

“I could not see if there was any food or water for the pigs,” Demos wrote. “The cows, however, were roaming in what appeared to be the remains of a garden. I could not see any hay available nor could I see an obvious water supply. There was a brown dog tied to a shed and was shivering while sitting there. I did not see any sign of food or water for the dog.”

Demos and Blood knocked on the door of the cabin on the property, trying to speak with someone about the animals but were not successful. They outlined the infractions they saw and issued Ireland a notice to comply.

By the end of November, Ireland had taken care of a few items, including repairing one building and making sure food and water was present for all the animals, Blood told Demos. But he still had not complied with all of the findings, including cleaning out buildings and pens and making proper bedding available for the animals, making sure buildings had three complete sides and a waterproof roof and making sure that cows had hay and water in front of them at all times, Demos wrote in the affidavit. Ireland also still had pig overcrowding issues and had not ensured his animals would be properly contained on his property.

At the beginning of December, Rachel Fiske, the state veterinarian, went with Demos and Blood to Ireland Hill Farms to recheck his progress, according to the affidavit. The farmer was unhappy about the visit, Demos wrote, and became argumentative with the women.

“I explained to him that there were rules and regulations that he as a farmer had to adhere to,” Demos wrote in the affidavit. “And that our goal was to ensure he was providing the necessary requirements for food, housing, veterinary care and clean living conditions.”

Ireland calmed down, she wrote, and they went together to the pig house, which she described as “filthy.” The officials talked to Ireland about the need to regularly clean out the pens and put in dry, clean bedding. The state veterinarian also suggested that Ireland feed pig food to the pigs and discontinue his practice of using potato waste as their primary food source. Ireland also was told to have a vet see his dog, Stella, because of worries she was malnourished.

By the end of December, Ireland had taken Stella to a vet to have her condition evaluated, and she was found to be fine, Demos wrote. But all was not settled at the farm. Two weeks later, a neighbor called Blood to say that Ireland had not been to the property in two days, and that the road to the pig enclosure had not been plowed out from the early January snowstorm. Blood tried to contact Ireland through phone calls and text messages, and although he did not respond to her, the neighbor called back to say Ireland had just plowed and fed the animals, Demos wrote.

On March 16, animal welfare officials received another complaint about Ireland’s animals, this one reporting that no one had been on the property to take care of them in more than two weeks.

Blood went to the farm the following day and found no one home, and also no signs of food or water. She took photos and left a notice asking Ireland to call her back. There was no response, and on March 21, Blood and Demos returned to the farm but found only Emily Ireland, Jerry Ireland’s wife, home, and told her it was extremely important that her husband call state officials back within 24 hours. He did not do so, but on March 23, Demos said that an official from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry had been in touch with Jerry Ireland, who agreed to meet Demos on the farm on Wednesday, March 28.

“I explained … that was a very long time from now and that I was afraid there may already be dead animals on the property,” Demos told the official.

The animal welfare agent asked Blood to set up a surveillance camera at the neighboring property in order to monitor activity at the Jerry Ireland’s farm over the weekend. The cameras did not capture any activity, according to the affidavit.

On Monday, March 26, Blood once again went to the farm to issue a summons to Jerry Ireland for not licensing his dog, and while there asked about his weekend feeding schedule for the animals.

“Mr. Ireland refused to answer her question,” Demos wrote. “She asked to see the animals and he again accused her of harassment and kicked her off the property.”

Blood went back to the neighbor’s house the next day and witnessed Jerry Ireland shooting the pigs, Demos wrote in the affidavit.

“[Blood] could see a backhoe digging a large hole and could see one pig hanging from the bucket of the backhoe,” Demos wrote.

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