For The Essex Reporter

The son of an Essex farmer has been ordered to appear in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington next month on charges of animal cruelty in connection with nearly two dozen dead cows earlier this spring, Essex police said.

Jonathan Matthews, 34, of Essex is due for arraignment in criminal court on June 26, police said.

Essex Police Chief Rick Garey said Matthews took control of his father’s farm at 278 Chapin Rd. after Earle Matthews, 75, was severely injured in his barn in January.

“Due to his injures, Earle was unable to work and his son Jonathan had to take over all daily operations of the farm. When interviewed, Jonathan Matthews reported that a combination of financial issues, long severe winter and problems with farm equipment made it so he could not properly take care of the cows after his father’s injuries,” Garey said in a press release.

“Jonathan reported that he quickly became overwhelmed, that he could not take care of the cows and they started dying. Interviews with the Matthews’ large animal veterinarian revealed that the cows were all alive, thin, but generally in good health during the last visit during February 2018,” the chief said.

Authorities found 21 dead cows inside the barn on April 27 after an unidentified person called the Essex animal control officer to report the deceased cattle, police said. The site, also known as the Matthews Brothers Farm, is about 250 acres and is about three-quarters of a mile from the Westford-Essex line.

Essex police and the animal control officer also found 13 other live cows in the barn but in very bad condition, the chief said. Authorities later determined two of them had to be put down due to malnourishment.

Once authorities verified the report, they worked in conjunction with an investigator from the Humane Society of Chittenden County, a veterinarian and a deputy state’s attorney trained in animal abuse investigations.

“The cause of death for the cows appeared to be from lack of adequate food and water over time, and there was no outward signs of any other health issues that could affect the investigators or the public,” Garey said in the press release.

For the next several hours, authorities worked to get food and water to the live cows to try to make them comfortable, Garey said. The team also contacted Vermont Agency of Agriculture officials and sought help developing a plan on how to dispose of the dead cows without causing a health hazard, police said. The ag agency supervised and approved the disposal.

By the following day, Earle Matthews agreed to relinquish ownership of the 11 remaining live cows to Essex police in the hopes they could find a suitable placement. Police Cpl. Christina Ashley, who is specially trained in animal cases, eventually found a Westford farmer to take the 10 heifers and one calf for care and rehabilitation.

By evening time on April 28, Essex authorities learned another 13 cows were grazing on other land maintained by Earle Matthews, the chief said. They were thin but not in life-threatening danger, police said.

Earle Matthews also turned over those cows to the Westford farmer, who agreed to take permanent ownership of them on May 1, police said.

Police haven’t released the name of the initial complainant. The person had visited the farm and “as part of his job, this employee had been in the barn and had seen and taken pictures of multiple dead cows inside a barn at that location.”

Jonathan Matthews did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.  Attempts to reach his father were also unsuccessful.