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Investigation continues into strange cow death

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VALLEY VIEW — The Lake County Sheriff’s office continues investigating the strange circumstances surrounding a cow death discovered the morning of June 27. The cow was found a quarter-mile into the field, and no tire tracks could be located despite the wet conditions. 

Ranch hand Lonnie Metzger estimated the time of death at 2 a.m. that morning and said he’d never seen anything like it in his 45 years as a ranch hand. 

The 3-year-old Angus-cross cow had a calf at the time of her death. Metzger said the calf was doing fine as of a few days ago. The owner is currently in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and could not be reached for comment.

A large section of skin was removed from the animal’s left side and connective tissue between two of the ribs was missing, but no ribs were broken. A section of trachea was resting on one of the front legs and the heart and vagina had been removed. There was little to no blood in the animal and none on the surrounding ground. 

“It just didn’t look right, it bothered me,” he said. “If an animal had eaten it, there would have been a hole. The skin was cut all the way around.”

In Metzger’s line of work, animals often die due to natural causes and animal predation. Not believing this to be either, he contacted local authorities. 

Based on evidence collected at the scene, Undersheriff Daniel Yonkin believes at least one individual was involved. Yonkin called in several “Man-trackers” to determine the mode of travel and find trace evidence of human involvement. Laboratory results are still several months out. 

“Given that there were select organs removed, it created a concern,” Yonkin said. “I don’t attribute this death to an animal. I believe this was a criminal act by an individual.” 

Local veterinarian Beth Blevins of All Creatures Mobile Care Inc. was called in to perform an autopsy. Blevins has been a vet for 26 years and, like Metzger, has never seen anything like it. 

The arcing cut that exposed the ribs was made with a knife. The heart, paracardial sack, and dorsal wall of the vagina were removed with “sharp cuts.” 

“It looked like somebody had to do that,” Blevins said. “It would have to be someone who knew what they were doing. The only opening big enough to get the heart out would be at the base of the neck in the thorasic inlet. They would have to have been quite good at it to get it out through there without nicking the lungs.”

Blevins was called in to examine the animal within 36 hours of its death. In that time, no other animals had preyed on it — another anomaly. Metzger said birds usually prey on a dead cow’s eyes and open wounds shortly after the animal expires, and scavengers will follow suit in the hours and days to come. In this instance, several feet of untouched green grass surrounded the cow days after its death; other animals wouldn’t go near it. 

Before slaughtering a cow, ranchers will often bring it into an enclosed area beyond the herd’s view. Should the others see the event, they may grow wary of humans. 

Metzger said it is likely the other cows saw the death and this could explain why they kept their distance, but “Cows don’t make good witnesses.” 

Blevins said tissue samples were sent to Colorado State University’s lab for testing. While the samples were collected several days postmortem, results showed evidence of viral pneumonia in the lungs and mineralization of the kidney tubules. Blevins said this can be caused by anti-freeze poisoning in smaller animals and certain types of poisonous plants high in oxalates in large animals. 

With no toxicology screening performed and no gunshot wound found, investigating parties could not pinpoint an exact cause of death. 

Ranchers are encouraged to contact the sheriff’s office if they find an animal death that looks out of the ordinary.

(Editor’s note: Visit to see photos of the deceased cow. Please be aware these photos are graphic in nature and may not be appropriate for viewing by children.)

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