MILLTOWN TOWNSHIP, Minn. (WCCO) – The Polk County Sheriff’s office is investigating accusations of animal neglect on a farm owned by a Wisconsin family.

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Milltown Township officials say they found nearly two dozen horses malnourished, and several were dead when they were called to Otter Creek Ranch last week.

Polk County Town Chair Harlen Hegdal says it was a disturbing sight.

“I knew it had to be serious because the sheriff’s deputy said ‘We need to have you out here ASAP,” Hegdal said. “There were dead horses, there were horses eating their stalls. There were horses just sitting rocking, back and forth.”

Several of the dead horses were being buried on the property. Sheriffs and volunteers immediately brought food for those that were still alive.

“We couldn’t even feed those animals much because their systems were so sensitive,” he said.

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Now the Polk County Sheriff’s office is waiting on autopsy results to prove the animals were starved before they can rescue them. But through their investigation, they’ve learned this isn’t the first time the owners have had trouble.

New Richmond ranch owner Pat McNamara bought his farm from the family in 2011. He says it took a year and a half to clean up the devastation left behind.

“[This] barn…there was probably four feet of manure in here,” McNamara said. “And no water, no lights, no nothing.”

The St. Croix County Sheriff’s office looked into the ranch owners then, but they were never charged. They moved to Milltown and opened Otter Creek Ranch, taking most of the horses with them.

Now ranch owners and the community hope they don’t slip through the cracks again.

“He should never be allowed to have animals again,” McNamara said.

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Phone calls to the owners of Otter Creek Ranch were not returned for comment.

Kate Raddatz