Recently, there have been several reported cases of seemingly bizarre mutilations of cattle in several counties in Oregon. Authorities in the area have been unable to identify how the animals died and what caused the mutilations. Speculation ranges from natural causes to cult behavior to extraterrestrials, but the one thing that is known is that these cases are not the first to be reported in the United States or abroad.
Historical Accounts of Livestock Mutilation
Cattle mutilation cases hit a peak in the 1970’s after hundreds of cases were reported in Colorado and New Mexico. Ranchers found the animals with what is described as “surgical” incisions, typically with the cheeks, udders, sex organs, and eyes removed, but without the tale-tell signs of typical predators like wolves or coyotes. Instead, the animal corpses appeared to be nearly bloodless with no tracks or indication of animals nearby.
The first known reports of livestock mutilation date to the 1600’s when livestock were found in parts of England in similar conditions. Over the years, periodic outbreaks of cattle mutilation have been reported, with significant cases appearing since the early 20th century. In fact, the only place that has not reported mutilations is India.
By the mid-1970’s, the ability of news media to publish accounts on a wide scale had increased dramatically, bringing the news of the animal deaths to millions of Americans. Many stories of mutilations were accompanied by eye-witness accounts of strange glowing lights in fields at night near where cattle were found, leading many to conclude that aliens were involved.
Still others speculated that the killings were related to cults. Many people came to believe that the bizarre cattle deaths were part of rituals that used the eyes and genitals.
Still others saw many of the cases of mutilation as retaliation or sabotage, particularly when the dead cattle were owned by small-scale ranchers. In this view, activists would kill the animals to cause financial hardship and lead to ranchers quitting or moving.
After investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and independent experiments were conducted, almost all of the known cases of cattle mutilation appear to have natural causes. Most of the cases involved animals that died of diseases and then were scavenged by birds and insects, which lead to the lack of tracks.
To test this theory, an Arkansas sheriff placed a dead cow in a field and observed the effects of decomposition. It was found that the lack of blood was the result of livor mortis, wherein blood is no longer circulating and pools into lower areas, first draining away from the soft tissues that are most often found mutilated. Insects, particularly blowflies, can quickly eat through soft tissue, and parts such as cheeks and eyes are particular favorites of scavenging birds like crows.
The experiment showed that within 48 hours, the dead cow showed many of the common signs of mutilated cattle.
One consistent element of the cattle mutilation stories is that the cases tend to cluster when the economy is stagnant or in decline, and particularly affect small ranchers who don’t have extensive financial resources. Historians point out that cattle deaths are fairly consistent over time and do not show spikes during periods of reported mutilation, indicating that the cause may be attention to the deaths rather than unnatural, abnormal, or otherworldly causes.