A complaint was called in to the Clay County Health Department on Tuesday regarding Friendly Grove Feeders which is located in Southern Clay County near Lewis. The caller, who requested to remain anonymous, said the cattle feeder operation recently had about 250 cattle die from unknown causes. Also, the caller said about 70 of the carcasses were given to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center and the rest were buried.
Registered Environmental Health Specialist Bill Hale said the Health Department investigates all calls and complaints. If it's a problem out of their jurisdiction, the health department notifies the proper agency. The State of Indiana Board of Animal Health was notified of the complaint. Clay County Health Officer Dr. Rahim Farid and State Field Veterinarian Dr. Jodi Lovejoy, from Indianapolis, went to the Friendly Grove Feeders establishment, talked to owners, Gene and Pam Stoops, then looked at some of the animals and farm.
The Stoops denied the allegations. A Times reporter talked with the Stoops before the Health Department officials arrived. They appeared aloof and evasive and sometimes their stories were contradictory or changed with the second telling. They said they'd had a few animals die but that was not unusual for a business dealing with large numbers of young animals. Pam Stoops estimated they had from 1,000 to 1,500 head of cattle.
When asked why she thought anyone would make such a claim against them, Pam Stoops said it could be a disgruntled employee. She said they'd had to fire an employee who wasn't feeding the animals properly. But Pam Stoops also said, because the employee lived in the area, was unable to drive and could not find other employment, they eventually hired him back.
Later, after saying the animals had died due to "employee negligence", Pam Stoops said the employee responsible was a professional cowboy and had gone back out west.
The reporter, who was asked to step outside while Pam Stoops took a long distance call, met and talked with Gene Stoops even though he refused to identify himself at that time. When asked if he was one of the owners he responded by tilting his head toward the office saying, "She's the owner. I just work here."
While walking about the premises waiting to get back with Pam Stoops, the reporter observed four buzzards circling the sky over a northwest portion of the farm.
After Dr. Farid and Dr. Lovejoy talked with the Stoops they alluded that they had lost about 150 cattle in May and June and another 50 in July. Dr. Holscher, a Terre Haute veterinarian listed the cause of death as pneumonia.
Pam Stoops said they routinely gave some carcasses to the Exotic Feline Rescue Center but denied giving large numbers of deceased cattle to the Center.
A call to the Center verified Pam Stoops information. Joe Taft from the EFRC said that he received carcasses from many cattle farms in the area. But he said he'd received only three or four in the past week from Friendly Grove Feeders.
In a phone report from Dr. Lovejoy on Wednesday, she said that "after speaking with Mr. Stoops and taking a walk-through of the farm, and this morning I spoke directly with Dr. Holscher and it appears that basically we just have the normal kind of bacterial and viral pneumonia things that go on when we bring a lot of animals together, especially cattle on a feed lot situation.
"When looking at the entire situation, it doesn't look like we have anything exceptional going on, on the farm... At this time, we're not going to pursue any testing... Dr. Holscher has been getting test results."
Dr. Lovejoy's message continued. "It also sounds like the Stoops are trying to put in a management program that's going to decrease the amount of disease they have and improve their treatment schedules and such... And they need to get management under control and work along those lines to improve the situation on the farm."
Things are not always what they appear to be. The system available to protect a community regarding health concerns is apparently working. But false reporting is very costly and time consuming and can jeopardize that system.