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Rancher is accused of starving livestock

The Collier County man said he lost his job and ran out of money to feed the cattle.

Associated Press
Published March 20, 2005

IMMOKALEE - A fourth-generation rancher who said he ran out of money to buy feed for his livestock has been charged with 120 felony counts of animal cruelty, authorities say.

Michael Lee Swails, 47, of Immokalee, was arrested Thursday in connection with the discovery of dead, dying or severely malnourished cows on his ranch last year. He said he had lost his job, got overwhelmed and didn't know what to do, even though he said he was a fourth-generation cattleman, officials said.

In March 2004, Collier County sheriff's deputies and Collier County Domestic Animal Services officers went to the Immokalee pasture on a tip.

They said they found nearly two dozen dead cows and vultures feeding on two that were still alive but too weak to move. Those cows were put to death.

"It is a really horrific case. The fact that such a large number of animals was involved makes this case particularly bad," said Margot Castorena, director of Domestic Animal Services.

The pasture was bare and it was evident that no food delivery had been made in some time, deputies say.

"The cows had eaten everything available to eat," said sheriff's Lt. Jeff Cox.

The remaining cows were seized and fed by Domestic Animal Services and donations from the public. Castorena said more than 100 cows survived and were sold at auction in July.

A trial date for Swails may be set at an April 11 hearing. A conviction on animal cruelty carries a maximum sentence of five years.

[Last modified March 20, 2005, 01:06:08]

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