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Livestock rescued from Washington County farm

Animal rescuers and law enforcement officers stand next to a barnyard full of animal remains at a Washington County farm where the Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant in November. Iowa Farm Sanctuary Executive Director Shawn Camp described the scene as a “boneyard.” (Photo by Iowa Farm Sanctuary)

WASHINGTON, Iowa — At least 140 animals have been removed from a Washington County farm after authorities — tipped off by “deceased lamb stuck in a fence” on the property — investigated the scene, according to an animal welfare organization.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office executed multiple search warrants at 2245 170th St. in Washington on Nov. 22 and 23, according to a news release.

“While at the scene, several animals were seized and placed in a safe location so they could be cared for and treated if needed,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. “(Officers) returned with an additional warrant … to seize additional animals once more resources and manpower were available.”

No one has been charged and the investigation is ongoing, the Sheriff’s Office said.

County records name Roger and Mary Escher as the land’s deed holders. Between the two of them, court documents show at least six guilty pleas related to charges of animals running at large. One 2021 criminal complaint said it was “an ongoing issue with (Roger) Escher and his livestock.”

The Eschers could not be reached for comment.

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa responded to help with police efforts, saying it removed 140 goats, pigs and sheep from the premises.

“The ARL team received the urgent call to assist,” a statement from the organization said. “Our team found dozens of sheep, goats and pigs living in horrendous conditions among deceased animals. None of the animals had adequate food or water and many were in poor condition.”

Iowa Farm Sanctuary Executive Director and co-founder Shawn Camp, who was on-site for two days of the rescue operation, said it was the worst case she’d ever seen.

“Where the animals were living, it was a boneyard,” she said. “Trying to rescue the animals in some of these areas, we were tripping over bodies … it was absolutely the most heartbreaking thing any of us have ever witnessed. It was of a monumental scale.”

Camp said it was difficult to fathom the sheer scale of death.

“I would venture to bet that over 1,000 animals have died there over the years,” she said. “Based on bodies that we found that were recently deceased, and the amount of bones that were everywhere, it would not shock me.”

Some of the rescued animals remain in the care of vets or animal hospitals. Camp said the parasite load of two sheep in critical condition was well above a typically lethal amount.

“The doctor said she’d never in her history seen eggs so high on a living animal, and she doesn’t know how he’s alive,” she said. “His eggs per gram were 26,000. … Just a few thousand eggs per gram is deadly.”

While formal investigations are pending, a social media post from the Iowa Farm Sanctuary said the animals’ deaths were “most likely due to starvation, pneumonia, and/or parasite overload.”

With the rescue operation now complete, Camp said organizations were moving to relocate animals to sanctuaries.

“The animals will live the rest of their natural lives, have adequate vet care, homes where they will be spayed and neutered … and homes that are animal product free,” she said. “They’re not potentially going to use these animals for their wool or their milk or anything of that nature.”

While she was relieved to have the animals in proper care, Camp said she wished red flags had been raised sooner.

“So many people from the area … have come forward saying, ‘Oh, thank you for helping, this has been going on for 30 years, we knew that this was happening for the past 10 years,’” she said. “I just really want to hammer it home that if you see something that you think is wrong, to contact your local authorities. … What happened there could have been stopped a long time ago. We could have saved so many animals from the suffering that they endured.”


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