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Impounded Cows Still Stand in Limbo

Royalton — The cows are still in Keith Hirtle’s yard.

A deal to relocate the quartet of cattle in a pasture overlooking Happy Hollow Road has fallen through, according to Hirtle and the cows’ owner, Jim McCleery. Hirtle said he’s abandoning hope for a resolution in the controversy and is moving forward with plans to sell the four Black Angus at auction, possibly within the coming days.

“My wife is adamant she doesn’t want them to go to slaughter,” Hirtle said in a phone interview Tuesday. “She’s become attached to them.”

Hirtle, who lives on Deerhaven Lane across the valley from McCleery, invoked a 1940s Vermont law when he impounded the trespassing cows on Sept. 24 by leading them into a corral he built on his property.

The cows’ latest escape from McCleery’s land was the last straw, Hirtle said. Neighbors described McCleery’s 15-head herd repeatedly escaping over the past decade and causing damage around the neighborhood.

McCleery had sold all but three calves when they got loose in September. An older cow used to lure the yearlings also escaped.

On the advice of Royalton Police Chief Bob Hull, McCleery impounded the foursome, setting off a legal dispute that appeared to be resolved last week — until McCleery was unable to secure the proper equipment to transport the cows.

McCleery said he could not get the proper railing to herd the cows onto a truck in time for the scheduled pickup Friday afternoon, and it was rescheduled for Saturday.

But according to McCleery, his health took a bad turn Friday night. He was transported via ambulance to a hospital emergency room for symptoms related to stress, he said. He recuperated Saturday and could not obtain the equipment then either, he said.

He said he will not protest Hirtle’s decision to auction off the cows under state statute as long as Hirtle follows the law.

“Really, I don’t care anymore,” he said Tuesday. “(I’m) going to see what the end result is. If it’s not to the specifications of statue, I guess I’ll take it from there.”

According to state statute, the proceeds from auction will be go toward paying for damages and impounding expenses; any balance would go into Royalton’s treasury, which McCleery could demand back within one year.

However, McCleery said he feared that the cows at auction would only garner a fraction of what they’d be worth in a private sale. One cow is pregnant, he said, and he expected its calf could be sold privately for $1,800. The others he would typically sell for anywhere between $1 to $5 a pound, but he worries they could get as little as 50 to 75 cents a pound at auction.

Like McCleery, Hirtle said he was looking forward to putting the matter behind him. He said he had the proper loading equipment for McCleery available to use the day after the impoundment, but said McCleery declined to come get his cows at that time, triggering the weeks-long legal dispute.

Hirtle said he hoped that people understood that he supported farmers and that he was trying to do what was best for everybody involved.

“I’m really concerned with how people are going to look at me now, this is a dairy state,” he said. “This guy is so far removed from being a farmer, he’s as much a farmer as I’m a general, and I just want people to know that I’m doing the humane thing here.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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