Swanville farmer charged with animal cruelty after 'mass execution' of pigs

Necropsy finds animals were malnourished before their deaths
By Ethan Andrews | May 16, 2018
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Ireland Hill Farms, where state animal welfare agents in March exhumed carcasses of 12 pigs that were shot and buried before a planned inspection.

Swanville — The owner of a Nickerson Road farm has been charged with 13 counts of criminal animal cruelty based on necropsy reports from pigs that had been shot and buried the day before a planned animal welfare inspection.

Jerry Ireland of Ireland Hill Farms was served by Belfast Police at a court hearing during which the state sought to take possession of the lone living pig found at the farm, which Ireland ultimately relinquished. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Waldo County courts May 25.

The charges date to March 28 when agents from the state's Animal Welfare Program, escorted by State Police and Sheriff's deputies, investigated the farm on a tip from Swanville Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood.

Blood said recently that she has fielded ongoing complaints for animal trespass and lack of care at the farm dating back two years. She and state agents inspected the farm in December 2017 based on concerns that the animals, including at least one cow, weren't being fed, watered and sheltered properly. At that time, Ireland was given notice to shore up some buildings, which Blood said he did.

However, more complaints followed in January, Blood said, and when Ireland stopped returning her calls, she got the state involved.

When agents inspected the property in March, they found areas where the ground had been disturbed and traces of blood. Using a backhoe, they dug in an area that Blood had seen farm workers digging the day before.

State agents exhumed the carcasses of 10 adult pigs and two small pigs. The animals were determined to have been shot. A distraught neighbor said it was not the first time Ireland had conducted a "mass execution" of animals at the farm.

According to previously published reports, Ireland had been notified of the coming inspection, and while euthanizing animals is not illegal, Agent Rae-Ann Demos of the Animal Welfare Program said the way in which Ireland conducted himself suggested he was trying to bury proof that the animals had not been property cared for.

All of the pigs were deemed to have been severely malnourished before their deaths, Demos said in an affidavit. She rated all of them either a 1 or 2 on a scale of 1 to 5, in which 1 is "emaciated" and 5 is "ideal."

One live pig was found locked in the barn with what appeared to be fresh bedding but no access to food or water, Demos said. She rated its body condition a 1.5. Next to the pig was the lower jaw carcass of another pig, she said.

Animal Welfare agents took possession of the live pig. A cow found roaming the property and deemed to be in good health was not taken; however, Ireland relinquished it to another farm, according to Blood.

Ireland Hill Farms is owned by Jerry and Emily Ireland. Jerry Ireland is an Army veteran and chief executive officer of United Farmer Veterans of Maine. He is a candidate for House District 98 in the Maine Legislature, according to a list of candidates complied by Maine's Secretary of State.

He declined to comment when reached by phone after the March 28 inspection.

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