Authorities say almost two dozen dead cows had to be disposed from a farm on Chapin Road following a complaint of possible animal abuse last month, according to state records.
Essex police have declined to discuss what officers found at the Earle Matthews Farm at 272 Chapin Rd. on April 27.
Police Chief Rick Garey wouldn’t release information on the criminal investigation until after the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed it, possibly this week.
But the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and the Humane Society of Chittenden County were among the other agencies alerted and have provided a snapshot of what they encountered on farm situated about three-quarters of a mile from the Essex-Westford town line.
State veterinarian Dr. Kristin Haas said the carcasses were mostly adult cattle in the barn, plus a few “well-decomposed adult animals outside as well as a pile of less decomposed calves,” an email to other state officials said.
Haas said the farm needed technical assistance with disposal.
The Reporter’s multiple attempts to reach Matthews, 75, both by phone and at his residence were unsuccessful, as was a call to his son. One state email indicated Matthews was homebound due to an injury in December.
There are conflicting reports on the number of live cows that were removed from the Matthews farm and placed in the temporary care of a Westford farmer, who was willing to adopt them. It was either 11 or 13, according to state records.
“They are technically property of the Town of Essex,” Deputy State’s Attorney Sally Adams said in an email three days after the raid. It’s unknown if the transfer was ever completed.
Large yellow road signs warning “cattle xing” are posted along Chapin Road by the Matthews farm, but there was not a single cow within miles in recent weeks.
The site, also listed as the Matthews Brothers Farm, ceased milk production on its own volition on January 3, the Vermont Ag Agency told The Reporter. The agency says the co-op dealing with the owner notifies the state when a farm shuts down.
The number of active milk farms continues to decline in Vermont. There were 735 registered farms this week in Vermont compared to 1,015 in 2010, according to ag agency spokesman Scott Waterman.
The Matthews Farm is “a mess, to say the least,” Haas reported: Responders had to excavate a path through the manure to lead out the live animals, she wrote.
There was also concern about water quality, according to records released by the state in response to a Vermont Public Records request.
“The barn literally has a stream underneath it and the pit is likely full if the barn is full,” Laura DiPietro, director of water quality within the ag agency, said in an email. She suggested a certified small farm operation inspector visit the site.
Vermont farms are normally subject to state inspections every six months. A review of these reports shows no major problems that forced any temporary shutdown at the farm.
A state report from July 21, 2016 showed an inspector ordered Matthews to keep the milk house door closed, restock fresh pails and other minor suggestions. A report a year later directed Matthews to wash the milk house walls and clean outside the pipeline. In both cases, he was told to sweep down cobwebs.
“Reinspection looks much better, thank you,” inspector Ashley Hudson wrote during a 10-minute stop at the farm July 27, 2017, state records show.
“Need to clean out heifers and put more bedding under all animals,” Hudson wrote during an 11-minute stop on Oct. 31, 2017. A 5-minute inspection on Nov. 15, 2017 was also satisfactory and was the last such report on file.
Little is known how the farm fell into trouble in recent months. Essex Town officials have said they had no knowledge of any outreach for help.
Two state agencies – agriculture and human services – fund a program known as Farm First, a free, confidential business and personal services program for farmers.
Essex municipal records show the property is up to date on its $9,624 annual taxes, town clerk Susan McNamara-Hill said. The property includes two barns, one milk house, two silos and four equipment sheds, according to public records in the Essex Town assessor’s office.
The property entered the Farm Stabilization Program in 1986, town records show.
The case is one of six reports of possible animal abuse Essex police say they’ve responded to in town since April 1.
The other five complaints involve dogs being left in cars. No charges were filed in those cases.