Manuel Sanchez tucks his leathery hands into well-worn pockets and nods toward a cedar tree where, last month, he found his fourth mysteriously slaughtered calf in as many weeks.
"I have no idea what could do this. I wish I did," he says.
Four calves, all killed overnight. Their innards gone. Tongues sliced out. Udders carefully removed. Facial skin sliced and gone. Eyes cored away. Not a single track surrounding the carcasses, which were found in pastures locked behind two gates and a mile from any road. Not a drop of blood on the ground or even on the remaining skin.
In his life in the piñon-patched pastures where his father and grandfather raised cattle, the 72-year-old Sanchez has seen mountain lions and coyotes kill cattle, elk and deer. He's seen birds scavenge carcasses. He's heard of thieves slaughtering livestock in the field for their meat. He can't explain what he saw last month.
"A lion will drag its kill. Coyotes rip and tear flesh. These were perfect cuts — like with a laser or like a scalpel. And what would take the waste — all the guts — and leave the nice, tender meat?" Sanchez says, as he nudges his old Ford through rutted trails, rosary beads swinging from his rearview mirror. "No tracks. No blood. No nothing. I got nothing to go by. They don't leave no trace."
Every rancher who has reported similar cattle deaths — and there have been at least eight such deaths in southern Colorado this year — uses the same description.
"They just stripped this one," says Tom Miller, who in March was one of three ranchers near Trinidad who discovered mutilated cattle.
Cow raises the alarm
One morning, he went out to his concrete troughs to feed his herd of about 80 red and black Angus cows and calves. The herd was racing about. A cow that a week before had birthed a calf was bellowing, "raising all kind of devil," Miller says.
The remains of a calf killed on Manuel Sanchez's ranch show the killer's odd predilection for entrails. (Photo courtesy of Chuck Zukowski)
There by the trough — past the locked gate a quarter-mile from U.S. 350 east of Hoehne — was the calf. Its front legs and torso were gone. Its back legs were hanging by hide to a shattered pelvis and a meatless backbone. Miller thought a pack of coyotes had torn into the calf the night before.
Then he saw the ears: sliced off the head in circular, surgical-like cuts. He noticed that there were no tracks. And no blood anywhere.
"If anyone can show me how this happened, I will believe them. I know it's not coyotes, especially in one night. Only a human or something like that can cut the ears like that," says Miller, a 72-year-old rancher who was raised on the prairie bordering the Purgatoire River.
"If it was done by people, they sure went out of their way to bother and confuse me. And really, why? It doesn't make any sense."
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