A pair of Boyd County brothers are facing more than 50 criminal charges — half of them felonies — after authorities found hundreds of dead cows, calves and bulls on their land and seized about 700 more animals they said were suffering.
Carl Schuman, 78, and Thomas Schuman, 72, each face 13 counts of felony animal abuse and 13 counts of improper disposal of carcasses, a misdemeanor.
“This is the worst one I’ve ever seen,” Sheriff Chuck Wrede, a law officer for more than 40 years, said Friday. “This is number one.”
He discovered the dead cattle March 28, two weeks after Boyd County was hit hard by flooding along the Niobrara River and Ponca Creek. Wrede was responding to complaints of animal abuse, and from public roads, spotted about 50 cow and calf carcasses in various stages of decay, he wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant.
And he was troubled by the hundreds of live animals he saw. “I believe that many of the live cows and calves are malnourished,” he wrote. “Many of the live cows are emaciated, and have hip and rib bones noticeably showing and protruding.”
Wrede ran into Carl Schuman, operating a tractor with a single hay bale. He told Schuman to bury the carcasses, and that he’d be back, according to the court documents.
On April 1, he returned with Boyd County Attorney Brent Kelly. They could tell some of the carcasses had been buried, but they decided to get a court order allowing them to enter the property with a veterinarian.
Wrede also inspected the property’s hay supply, and deemed much of it outdated, up to a couple of years old, and the remaining hay represented a one- or two-day supply.
They searched the property April 8 and counted about 150 dead cows, calves and bulls, and nearly 700 live animals, according to court documents.
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Ten days later, a judge ordered the sheriff’s office to seize and sell the surviving animals, with the proceeds paying for the sale, the care of the animals and, if any money was left over, to the owners.
The Nebraska Brand Committee, Wrede and his hired hands got to work. It took more than a week and a half to collect all the cattle from the Schuman properties, and they found more dead animals as the days unfolded.
“It was busy,” the sheriff said. “We kind of put everything else on hold and that’s all we did.”
Most of the surviving animals sold April 25 at Shamrock Livestock Market in O’Neill. But so far, nobody — including Carl or Thomas Schuman — has claimed ownership of the seized cattle or any of the sale proceeds, Kelly said in a news release.
The brothers weren’t arrested, but they’re scheduled to appear in court next week. And Thomas Schuman has been there before. In 2008, he was charged with 20 counts of misdemeanor animal neglect and ultimately pleaded guilty to five counts of improper disposal of a carcass.
Carl Schuman’s lawyer, Rodney Palmer of Ainsworth, said he and his client are “at odds” with law enforcement over what happened. Many Nebraska producers struggled to take care of their animals after the rivers and creeks rose.
“A lot of it was related to the flood and we had two major storm events that went through,” Palmer said. “Numerous farmers and ranchers lost lots of cattle.”
But Wrede wasn’t buying it. It was clear the animals were suffering before the flood, he said.
“He can say what he wants to. Our vet tells us different.”