‘We’ve seen this before’: After cow mutilation, Delta Junction ranchers put up $2,500 reward

cattle in a field
Tangy and Matt Bates have lost at least three cows over the past couple of weeks that were among about 100 they kept in a field like this that was owned by another farmer in the agricultural area south of Delta Junction. (Mugrage Hay And Cattle)

Alaska State Troopers are investigating the killing and mutilation of a cow near Delta Junction. The ranchers who owned the animal are offering a $2,500 reward for information about its death and the disappearance of two other cows over the past couple weeks.

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Tangy Bates and her husband, Matt, own 300 head of cattle. And because there’s not enough pasture at their ranch, they keep most of their beef cows in other farmers’ fields. But all that changed this week, when kids next door to one of those farmers found a dead cow.

“It was a couple of 8-year-old girls that found it,” Tangy Bates said. “They were out playing.”

She said the girls found the cow Wednesday in the woods that surround the field, where she and her husband kept about 100 of their cows. A week prior, she said, they’d found the carcasses of two other cows that had gone missing, and they weren’t sure of their cause of death either. 

But Bates said the third cow, a lactating female, had clearly been killed and mutilated.

“They had cut her ears off, cut her udder off, her reproduction organs, cut her eyes out, backstraps out,” she said.

Bates said some people have suggested the cow was killed by a predator, like a bear. But she disagrees because the incisions clearly were made with a sharp edge.

“We have a butcher shop,” she said. “We know the difference.”

Bates and her husband have been operating their farm and ranch in Delta Junction for about six years, and she’s never heard about any cattle mutilations in the area during that time. 

Nor has Scott Mugrage, another Delta Junction rancher who’s also president of the Alaska Farm Bureau.

“I haven’t run into such a thing,” he said.

Mugrage said he’s perplexed by the cow killing, too. He said he suspects the cows were killed for food because the animals’ backstraps were cut — the two long strips of meat that run along the spine.

“Meat, groceries are getting pretty doggone high,” he said. “And you’re probably going to see more instances of something like this.”

But the high cost of beef also means that Bates and her husband will have to pay some $2,500 to replace each cow. And that doesn’t include the loss of revenue they would’ve gotten from the sale of calves the cows would’ve produced.

“The short-term value is $2,500. But the long-term value of that animal is, I’m losing out on thousands of dollars,” she said.

Troopers are investigating the cow killing, and that’s about all a spokesperson could say about it last week. 

Bates said she and her husband have sent tissue samples from the three cows to a lab in Washington state for necropsy in hopes that might shed some light on the case. But she, too, has her suspicions, based on what she’s encountered during a lifetime of ranching.

“I originally come from Idaho, and we’ve seen this before, where you have cults that have come through and do cattle mutilations and take reproductive organs, eyeballs,” she said.

Bates said she’s just speculating about that. 

Meanwhile, she and her husband have been spreading the word around the local agricultural community about the suspected cattle killings. And fellow farmers and ranchers have been donating money toward the $2,500 reward the Bateses are offering for information leading to the conviction of the suspected rustlers.

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Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.