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Malnutrition cited in Edgeley farm horse deaths

Photographs taken by a LaMoure County sheriff's deputy were introduced at a recent court hearing to support the county's confiscation of dozens of horses from an Edgeley, N.D., farm. Special to The Forum

About 35 horses and two donkeys were recently taken into protective custody from an Edgeley, N.D., farm where at least half a dozen horses were found dead.

Three confiscated animals had to be euthanized, according to a veterinarian working with authorities on the case.

A judge ruled that horses on the Richard Musland farm in rural Edgeley were "unjustifiably exposed to cold or inclement weather" and fed hay with low nutritional value, some of which was rotting.

At a hearing late last week, Southeast Judicial District Court Judge Daniel Narum also ruled the animals did not have access to water, other than snow on the ground.

Narum issued an order that keeps the horses in county custody for the time being.

According to information contained in court documents:

The LaMoure County Sheriff's Department received an anonymous call Jan. 8 stating that a number of horses belonging to Musland had died.

A deputy attempted to take pictures of surviving animals the next day, but because of snowfall he wasn't able to reach them.

A deputy took photos of the horses Jan. 14 and spoke with Musland, who told the deputy three horses had died from ringworm, but the surviving animals were fine.

On Jan. 20, photos of the surviving horses were shown to Dr. Sara Fridrych, a Lisbon, N.D., veterinarian working as an agent for the state veterinarian's office.

Fridrych and a deputy visited Musland's property, and Fridrych told the deputy two of the horses were sick and needed to be put down.

She said the rest needed to be removed because they were in need of care.

LaMoure County Sheriff Robert Fernandes and the county state's attorney's office told the deputy to take custody of the animals and 37 were placed with another farmer for safekeeping, according to court records.

An autopsy on one of the dead horses indicated malnutrition, according to court documents.

The records show a number of dead horses were found under piles of snow.

Fridrych said Monday that 10 horses died, including two that were euthanized around the time the confiscation took place, and a third that was euthanized later.

No charges have been filed.

Fernandes and LaMoure County State's Attorney Kimberly Radermacher did not return messages for comment Monday.

Musland declined to comment when reached by phone Monday.

Dr. Susan Keller, state veterinarian, said her office is involved in the investigation, but she declined to discuss details.

"We always have inhumane treatment of animal complaints going on, especially this winter," she said. "It's been a harsh winter in some areas."

She said the Edgeley matter is the most severe case her office is dealing with.

"If animals are dying, you have to figure out: Was it because of the winter, or is it because of lack of care?" Keller said.

When temperatures fall like they have this winter, owners need to make sure livestock are getting adequate amounts of quality food, she said.

"People may not be aware that what they are feeding is not enough to keep energy in those animals."