Frozen water is part of life when raising animals on a small farm in upstate New York, Palatine farmer Sara Niccoli said.
The same goes for unheated barns.
“For small farmers who do pasture raising, there’s no such thing as a heated barn,” said Niccoli, who raises sheep, chickens and horses on a small farm in Montgomery County.
Recent allegations that Glenville farmer Joshua Rockwood kept his animals in an unheated barn, with frozen water, have local farmers like Niccoli doing more than scratching their heads.
“You dump the ice, you crack the ice, if the animals are thirsty, they’ll drink it right up,” Niccoli said after taking a tour of Rockwood’s West Glenville Road farm Thursday morning. “If they’re not, it just freezes, and they’ll drink it right up that evening. So the fact that some of these animals are being taken away for something that happens on all of our farms every day is really terrifying for us.”
Niccoli, who also serves as Palatine town supervisor, added, “It’s been a rough, rough winter, and some of the complaints that I saw are just incredibly unfounded in terms of animal abuse.”
On Sunday, Glenville police took two draft horses and a pony from Rockwood’s farm, West Wind Acres, after inspecting it repeatedly last month and this month and observing what they called animal neglect. Police said the horses and pony showed signs of illness and injury, and all three are receiving veterinary care at Peaceful Acres Horses in Rotterdam Junction.
Rockwood, 36, faces 13 misdemeanor charges of not providing animals with proper sustenance. He was arraigned March 12 and is due in Glenville Town Court at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
He is accused of keeping sheep, sheepdogs and piglets in an unheated barn with frozen water. He is also accused of having three horses, 30 cows and 10 pigs in a fenced-in area with a natural spring that had frozen, among other allegations.
Rockwood has declined to comment on the charges, but posted a blog to his farm’s website on March 5 saying his animals passed a veterinarian’s wellness check in late February. A letter from Mandak Veterinary Services he posted with the blog said the animals had food, water and either shelter or a wind break.
“This winter has brought some challenges, but I have remained positive and pushed though them until last Wednesday evening,” Rockwood wrote, referring to the day in late February when Glenville police first visited his farm after receiving an anonymous complaint.
Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle also toured the farm Thursday morning and said Rockwood showed him how the animals are fed and given water.
Of the shape of the animals, Koetzle said, “I’m neither a farmer nor a veterinarian, so I can’t evaluate that. I do appreciate Josh taking me around and allowing me to at least understand the situation.”
But he also said that current conditions are not in question — the conditions of the animals previously documented by police are.
“Any time there are allegations of animal abuse or neglect, we take that very seriously, so I wanted to come out today and see for myself,” Koetzle said. “And I understand farmers have their rights, and we do support farming in our community, obviously, but we have to make sure animals are also being taken care of.”
He added, “We’ll let it go through the court system.”
Glenville police have said Rockwood appears to be providing the animals still on the farm with proper care. Police continue to monitor the farm and said more animals could be taken away.
Rockwood would not allow media to join the tour of his farm Thursday morning, but Niccoli said he told her a story of one example of his farm getting the attention of his neighbors. She said he had a horse last year with cancer that he was working to get treated, and he eventually had to put the horse down.
“On conventional farms, the second they get sick, off they go,” she said. “On our smaller farms, we tend to try to take care of them and keep them around, so you might see an animal that’s not doing well but it’s absolutely not because of abuse or neglect.
“It’s actually because you’re doing more for that animal.”