Maine Animal Welfare Agents removed three pig carcasses from Ireland Hill Farms in Swanville as they executed a search warrant at the farm in 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre

BELFAST, Maine — It’s been nearly two years since a former farmer was accused of animal cruelty after he allegedly killed and buried about a dozen heritage pigs just a day before state animal welfare agents were scheduled to check on them.

Two months after criminal charges were filed against Jerry Ireland, the Army veteran resigned from his position as the head of the nonprofit United Farmer Veterans of Maine. He later resigned his post as head of a for-profit co-op intended to help farmer veterans.

But the case has been slower to wind its way through the court system. Ireland, who was charged with 13 counts of animal cruelty in connection with the death of the Mangalitsa pigs in March 2018, is expected to face a jury at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast.

Credit: Gabor Degre

“We’re hopeful it’ll be reached for a trial in [February],” said Ireland’s attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor.

In April, Justice Robert Murray denied Ireland’s request to suppress the search warrant that led to the exhumation of the pig corpses at Ireland Hill Farms, which no longer appears to be in business. Maine Animal Welfare Agents who arrived at the farm March 28, 2018, found a single live pig locked in the barn without food or water, according to an affidavit after the visit by Rae-Ann Demos, a district humane agent. She said at the court hearing in 2019 that on a body scoring scale of one to nine, with one being emaciated and nine being obese, the remaining live pig was estimated to be 1.3.

Agents dug in a disturbed area on the farm and soon began to uncover pig carcasses, “all of which were thin,” she wrote.

The live pig was taken to the Peace Ridge Sanctuary in Brooks, where he was dubbed “Angus.” He was in rough shape when he first got there, according to Daniella Tessier, the founder and operations manager of the sanctuary.

“He came in emaciated, full of parasites, including topical lice — no excuse for that,” she told the BDN in May 2018, adding that he is now doing well, thanks to a lot of care, nutrition and belly rubs. Earlier this month, a post on the sanctuary’s Facebook page featured a photo of the wooly pig.

Angus was the only surviving pig at a horrific state cruelty case nearly two years ago. He arrived skinny and terrified….

Posted by Peace Ridge Sanctuary on Tuesday, 14 January 2020

“…Today, no one would ever call Angus skinny or terrified — he is large and in charge!” it said.

Animal Welfare Program officials have said Ireland had not been cooperative with their agents well before the death of the pigs. He allegedly ignored their phone calls and refused visits and inspections. They believe his decision to shoot and kill the animals on the eve of an inspection was an effort to hide evidence of inadequate care.

Maine state law says that euthanizing one’s own animals is not a crime if it’s done humanely, which likely will be brought up as a defense, if the case goes to trial. Tzovarras previously told the BDN that Ireland did treat all the animals on his farm humanely, and that the charges stem from a dispute with the state over how to properly care for Mangalitsa pigs, a specialized breed that is not common or well understood in Maine.

Efforts this week to speak with Waldo County Assistant District Attorney Bill Entwisle, who will prosecute the case, were not immediately successful.