Utah Department of Agriculture and Food investigating mysterious death of 13 cows

Nov 22, 2023, 5:49 PM | Updated: 6:42 pm

PARK CITY — More than a dozen dead cows have been spotted along a popular trail in Park City.

Field veterinarian Bob Erickson with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food said the rancher immediately reported the 13 dead cows on Thursday, Nov. 16.

The cattle had been part of a herd of 69 cows who had been moved into a pasture along the Rail Trail, behind Home Depot. Erickson said they had only been there 30 days.

“This is devastating for that family,” he said. “Pregnant, well, healthy cows. They’ve utilized this pasture for 50 years and never had a problem. It’s super alarming to them and to us and we want to help in any way we can.”

Erickson said samples were taken to a state diagnostic lab. A necropsy, an autopsy performed on animals, was performed.

“There were some particular hemorrhages in the trachea, some inflamed lymph nodes in the larynx,” he said.

More than a dozen dead cows have been spotted along a popular trail in Park City. (KSL TV)

Investigation into the dead cows

He said there’s no evidence of foul play.

“They looked for gunshot wounds or something, lightning is always suspected,” Erickson said.

It’s highly unlikely 13 cows were struck by lightning.

“With the liver coming back negative for heavy metals, we’ve pretty much ruled that out,” he said.

That means the cows weren’t impacted by materials from nearby mines. Water contamination test results haven’t come in yet. They’re also looking at plants.

“There’s certain plants that, when they hard freeze, they can release an acid their selves, which can be highly toxic to animals,” Erickson said.

He said a specialist did spot some plants in the area that could have this trait.

The remaining cows in the herd were immediately isolated. Erickson said they haven’t shown any signs of disease or health issues.

“They’ve used that pasture for 50 years,” he said. “Going forward, do they dare use it?”

More than a dozen dead cows have been spotted along a popular trail in Park City. (KSL TV)

A rare event

Erickson said it’s rare to see this many cows die at the same time.

“You’ll find some old automobiles or used batteries or something that’ll decay, and those animals will actually consume the led plates…sometimes, it’s some rusted containers of pesticide…and the cows are attracted to metal, but nothing like that we’ve found,” he said.

He said they’re desperate for answers.

“It’s super alarming to them and to us and we want to help in any way we can,” he said.

These cows were also pregnant and otherwise healthy.

“That’s not only an economic catastrophe and hardship, but these producers are just attached to these animals,” Erickson said. “Often, they’re named or known….tremendously devastating.”

The veterinarian is waiting on test results and field inspections that he hopes will reveal what happened here.

“So far, it’s still a mystery,” he said.

These dead cows are still lying in the pasture where they were initially found. The rancher is ready to remove them, but Erickson said the department needs to have easy access to the animals if further testing is needed.

“Not knowing if there’s anything else if we can look at, or anything, and the temperatures are kind of cool, we’ve allowed that in this case because we just don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “In case there’s something else that we could investigate, we would be able to. ”

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Utah Department of Agriculture and Food investigating mysterious death of 13 cows