GENEVA — A 30-year-old Exeter man has denied 40 charges of animal cruelty and theft after investigators found more than 200 dead cattle on his farm near Exeter.

Aaron E. Ogren pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Fillmore County District Court to one charge of theft by unlawful taking, nine charges of prohibited sale of livestock and 30 counts of cruelty to animals.  

A pre-trial hearing in the case was set for Aug. 13 at 9:45 a.m.

According to the arrest affidavit, Christian J. Fell, an investigator with the Nebraska Brand Committee, reportedly visited the Ogren farm on April 3 to discuss recovering cattle in Ogren’s care that belonged to owners in Colorado.

Investigators believe Ogren sold 53 branded cattle from a Colorado owner to a local rancher, which were worth about $79,500.

Fell observed a few dead calves while he waited for Ogren to arrive at the farm. When Fell asked about returning the cattle, Ogren said a bunch of the cattle had died due to the past hard winter, but he didn’t attempt to contact the owners.

Ogren agreed to a walk-through of the cattle pens and Fell was shown a pile of dead calves. Ogren said about 20-30 head had been buried on the farm and there was a big pile of dead cattle that had not yet been buried.

Fell saw live cattle standing in a knee-high mixture of wet mud, urine and manure.

He saw multiple dead cattle, ranging in age from newborn to full grown.

He didn’t see any fresh water in the tanks in the pens. He also noted debris in the muddy manure, such as metal rods, broken gates, scrap wood and other debris that could be harmful to livestock if stepped on or tripped over.

Ogren didn’t have a dry place for cattle calving and the conditions could create serious illness and even death to calves because they wouldn’t be able to get any good footing to stand up, are fighting bacteria from the manure created because the cows’ teats are in the muddy manure most of the time, and the calves never have a chance to dry off and warm up.

A veterinarian who visited the farm to assess the cattle also believes the conditions were unsuitable for sustaining health livestock. Necropsies performed on three calves found that one died of pneumonia resulting from the conditions it was born in, one died from no food intake, and one died from not having enough energy to overcome the cold.

Investigators removed 263 head of cattle, not counting calves, and found them to be malnourished.

Investigators counted more than 200 dead cattle and one horse with the halter still attached that Ogren said had gotten stuck in the mud hole and was left to die.

Theft by unlawful taking, value more than $5,000, is a Class 2A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Prohibited sale of livestock is a Class 3A felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Cruelty to animals is a Class 4 felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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