Aaron E. Ogren, 30, of Exeter appeared in Fillmore County District Court April 19 for a civil case involving around 400 livestock, half of which were found dead at a feedlot in early April.
The judge ruled that the state presented sufficient evidence to prove the animals were abandoned or cruelly neglected and that Ogren would pay for the animals’ care while they were in the county’s custody.
Ogren was next scheduled to appear in county court on May 8 for a preliminary hearing on criminal charges pending in a separate but related case.
Also in court April 19 were nine other defendants named in the civil case and an attorney representing two more.
Those present were Eva Turbiville, Kenneth Eller and Becky Luzum, all of Exeter, Beau Addison of Collbran, Colorado, Jason Miller of Mack, Colorado, Matt Perham of Laura, Illinois, Bruce Guthard (also representing son Jake Guthard) of Litchfield, Jeary Morgan of Utica and Randy Neujahr of Osceola.
Sarah Ogren, Aaron’s mother and the owner of the property on which the livestock were found, and Justin Ogren, Aaron’s brother, were represented by counsel.
In total, 24 people were listed as defendants in the case, but one was dismissed and two others were identified only as John and Jane Doe—unknown.
Several of the defendants were there concerning cattle they owned and were trying to recover from Ogren’s operation.
On April 3 and 4, investigators with the Nebraska Brand Committee,
Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol found more than 200 dead cattle and one dead horse on Ogren’s property at 1817 Road C near Exeter.
They also removed an additional 200 cattle that were alive but in poor condition.
On April 19, the judge and counsel heard testimony from CJ Fell, a criminal investigator with Area 3 of the Nebraska Brand Committee. His position holds the same authority as, for example, a state patrol trooper.
Fell answered questions about the animals found on the Ogren feedlot and the condition of the property when he helped serve a search warrant on Aaron Ogren along with Fillmore County Sheriff William Burgess.
Fell said once they made contact with Aaron, he showed them who owned which cattle and the piles of dead animals, stating that some were lost because of a winter storm and some were poor quality animals to begin with.
Fell said the muck on the feedlot was mid-shin to knee-high, and dead animals, some buried by mud, were mixed in the pens with the live animals.
He said there was no fresh water available for the animals, which were drinking from contaminated mud puddles.
Photographs were submitted to the court as evidence, showing the condition of the lot and the bodies of dead cattle and a horse.
Fell said some of the dead cattle were identified by their brand markings, and others had deteriorated too much to tell.
Fell described the animals that were still alive as “walking skeletons.”
Another witness, Dr. Delayne Epp, a veterinarian from York, talked about proper care of livestock, especially calves, and the effect poor living conditions can have on the animals.
Epp said the conditions on the feedlot were not conducive to birthing healthy calves.
Epp conducted a visual and physical exam of each of the living animals, ranking it with a body score from 1 to 9. A 1 meant no fat or muscle on the bones, sharp points on bones and weakness.
A 9 would mean the animal was obese.
According to Fell, 22 animals had a score of 1, and 65 had a score of 2.
Fell said yearlings should have weighed about 800 pounds at that time, and the ones found weighed about 400 pounds.
Epp said he performed necropsies, post-mortem exams to determine the cause of death, on five of the animals—three the day he was called to the scene and two on animals that died shortly after.
One calf died of severe pnemonia, which Epp said is not common, one calf had never nursed, and a third calf had insufficient nutrients to survive.
Of the other two, one had severe pnemonia with absesses in the lungs, and the other died of scours caused by dehydration and lack of nutrients.
A third witness, Burgess, said the living animals whose owners had been identified had been to Exeter to claim them.
He said owners of all but 29 of the cattle had been identified.
Becky Luzum took the stand and said she and her husband, Kenneth Eller, had used Aaron Ogren as a contract grower to purchase and raise animals on their behalf.
Luzum said she had paid Ogren for feed, rent and pharmeceuticals.
She said Ogren told them two of their 80 calves had died, but the other 78 weren’t being sold because of their low weight.
Luzum said Ogren eventually told them the calves would be sold in February, but she has not received any money from the sale.
The judge told Luzum that issue would need to be filed in a different civil case.
The judge ruled that the state had proven abandonment or neglect of the animals.
Those animals whose owners had been identified were to be released to those owners. The judge gave a one-week window for the other 29 cattle to be claimed, or they would be sent to auction with the proceeds being held in an escrow account.
Ogren was ordered to pay the costs associated with care of the animals while they were in the county’s custody, which totaled more than $3,000.
Ogren was charged in a separate criminal case with one count of theft by unlawful taking over $5,000, two counts of illegal sale, trade or disposal of livestock and 26 counts of abandonment or cruel neglect to animals resulting in injury or death, according to court documents. All these are felony charges.
He was set to appear in court May 8 for a preliminary hearing on the criminal charges.