The owner of Otter Creek Ranch in Wisconsin is facing 34 criminal charges after four horses were discovered dead on his farm. Michael Feist allegedly failed to provide them food, allowing conditions to deteriorate even after a warning from authorities.
Otter Creek Ranch horse
Feist made his first appearance Monday in Polk County Circuit Court and was released on a $10,000 signature bond. He is charged with four felony counts of mistreatment of animals causing death, 15 misdemeanor counts of intentional mistreatment of animals, and 15 misdemeanor counts of intentional failure to provide proper food and drink to animals.
In September, authorities received a tip from a veterinarian regarding undernourished horses on the property owned by Feist and his chiropractor wife, Dr. Brenda Weierke. The criminal complaint states sheriff department records show this isn’t the first complaint received regarding allegations of neglect at the ranch.
Deputy Jeff Hahn and Mark Nelson, DVM inspected the property on September 30. Otter Creek Ranch houses a herd of about 80 horses. According to advertisements, the ranch offers boarding, horse training, riding lessons, and trail riding services.
Dr. Nelson reported more than a dozen horses were in “nutritional distress” and proposed a re-inspection in 45 days so Feist could implement the necessary changes.
Feist attributed the horses’ poor condition to his barley fodder program not being ready, no place to put hay, and feed shipment delays due to the rain, according to court documents.
In early November, Deputy Hahn obtained a search warrant after additional complaints were received. He and another deputy discovered small animals housed in pens with manure more than a foot deep in some areas. The excrement was so deep that the sheep were walking with their entire legs buried. They also found food and water buckets empty.
The deputies made the grim discovery of four dead horses in one of Feist’s barns. Three living horses were among the bodies. Hahn states two of the horses appeared to have been dead for several days and showed signs of being walked on by the other horses.
The dead included a three-year old named Red, and three appaloosa mares – ages 15, 16, and 20. Two of the horses’ bodies were transported to the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for necropsies. The results are pending.
Dr. Nelson reports several of the horses in the pen would not last many more days in the current conditions. According to the criminal complaint, there was no hay on the property for the herd of 80 horses, on the day the search warrant was executed. Another 30 horses in another part of the barn appeared to be in “grave danger.”
Fifteen sample horses pulled from the group were later scored by Dr. Nelson using the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System. A score of 1-9 is given based on fatty deposits in six areas of horse’s body. A score of 1 signifies an extremely emaciated body condition and a 9 means the horse is extremely fat.
The “best” scoring horse in the group was a 3, which is considered malnourished and potentially in distress, according to the report. Seven horses scored a 1.5 on the scale, six scored a 2, and one was given a 2.5.
An investigator states “it should be clear that low scores are generally from chronic substandard care since changes in body condition takes time to develop. Fatty tissue can take months to build up or degrade.”
Feist is scheduled to be back in court on December 17. Until then, concerned citizens are calling for the seizure of Feist’s remaining horses.
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