SUMMITVILLE, Ind. — Carrie Ault, whose family owns the Summitville farm where as many as 150 dead animals have been found, said today that the condition of the surviving animals was being “blown way out of proportion,” and the media was “over-exaggerating” and was “slandering” the family.
Maleah Stringer of the local Animal Protection League, wasn’t buying it: “One small sheep was so weak, it could barely stand,” she said. “These animals were living, literally living and sleeping on piles of rotting bodies. And no food, no water, nothing.”
“This is not overblown,” she said. “There’s no way they can talk their way out of this.”
Authorities are also investigating a living quarters inside a barn on the property and say that if children of the Ault family stayed there, child endangerment charges could be filed.
While digging a hole to bury the carcases of the originally estimated 75 to 100 dead Wednesday evening, officials discovered a manure pit and septic tank, 20 feet wide by 10 feet deep, full of dead cows and poultry in varying stages of decay.
There was “no telling how many,” Madison County Sheriff Department Maj. Brian Bell said Thursday. “‘Lots’ is all I can tell you.”
Roughly 30 more living animals were described as starved, “walking carcasses,” withered to skin and bones and wading through piles of the dead.
“We’ve been to some situations that were bad,” Stringer said. “I think this is probably one of the worst ones we’ve seen.”
Daniel W. and Carrie Ault own the farm, on County Road 1700 North near 350 West in Boone Township.
Surviving animals were moved to another barn, where, “They all ran to the water,” put out by police, Richardson said. “We were having trouble keeping it filled.”
The living animals include eight miniature horses, six sheep, two ponies, a llama and several chickens, ducks, turkeys and rabbits.
The state Board of Animal Health was on-site most of Wednesday to examine the survivors, all of whom were found to be below normal body conditions, some with visible ribs, and in need of supportive care.
“You can’t just turn these animals loose with buckets of water and food,” said spokesperson Denise Derrer. “They’re high maintenance. They need monitored feeding every two hours or so.”
Daniel Ault reportedly said he’d been “overwhelmed” between the farm, helping with the Strawtown Animal Auction and running his meat-processing business.
“I can’t speak to what his mindset is,” Stringer said. “When you’re throwing animals in buckets and leaving dead bodies, and allowing other creatures to live, sleep, eat, among the dead, that to me speaks a little bit more than overwhelmed.”
The Herald Bulletin visited a business at the location authorities described on Thursday. A woman who answered the door confirmed it was a meat-processing plant but denied it belonged to either Ault.
A call to Daniel Ault was not immediately answered, but Wednesday, he told The Herald Bulletin’s news gathering partner WISH-TV the deaths were not preventable, and that some of the animals on his farm died four months ago and he didn’t have the necessary machinery to move and dispose of the carcasses.
“I have livestock,” Ault said. “I lose animals from stress and shipping. We lost some horses due to some disease we had in hay we had purchased.”
Richardson said the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office will determine what charges would be filed against Ault, but said they could include Class D felony animal cruelty and possibly child endangerment, if it’s determined children were staying in living quarters found inside the barn.
Officials also said this morning that potential costs of cleanup could be extensive between equipment, crew overtime and other related expenses. Crews worked all night to dig a four-foot hole to bury carcasses. They hope to be done with the process by this afternoon.
The surviving animals have been placed in foster homes.
“The outpouring of community support is the only bright spot in this,” Stringer said Thursday. “It restores at least a little faith in humanity.”
The Herald Bulletin will continue to update this story.