HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — After rescuing dozens of neglected, malnourished goats this winter, the state of Connecticut is being asked whether the costs involved in their care are worth keeping them alive.
As the goats recover at a state facility, which has been monitoring them for disease, some legislators are questioning why officials don't just euthanize them.
"Farmers make those decisions every day and sometimes these farmers make the decision that that animal has to go to protect the herd," Rep. Melissa Ziobrion, R-East Haddam, said at a legislative hearing this week. "At what point does the state, this department, start acting like a farmer and make those decisions?"
It's not that easy, said State Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky. The department of agriculture is charged with the goats' care and moving them out of state ownership.
"That all takes time," Reviczky said.
Admitting he's not one to be "queasy about raising an animal to go from farm to plate," Reviczky said the circumstances surrounding the goats are different because they were rescued by the state from inhumane conditions.
"If I were an individual farmer, it's easier to make those decisions, but I'm not," Reviczky said.
On Jan. 16, the Department of Agriculture seized 74 goats, including some pregnant females, from the Butterfield Farm cheese-making operation in Cornwall. It marked one of the largest animal cruelty seizures in the agency's history. The goats' owners, who face animal cruelty charges, relinquished ownership of the animals, making the state responsible for their care.
The herd, which now numbers 95, is being housed at the agency's large-animal rehabilitation facility in Niantic, where prison inmates help with the care and feeding as part of special program developed in 2003.
At the legislative budget hearing on Tuesday, Reviczky told lawmakers the Agriculture Department has exceeded its current fiscal year budget by $380,000, with much of that cost stemming from care for animals including the rescued goats.
It's uncertain how long they'll be in Niantic. Dr. Bruce Sherman, a veterinarian and director of the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Regulation and Inspection, said the herd is being tested for two diseases. One is a virus that causes arthritis in the animals and can be contagious to other goats. The other disease causes abscesses.
"It's not just a simple matter of adopting these goats out or selling them," Sherman said. "Because we're going to be concerned about where they go and if other goats are going to be exposed to these diseases, if in fact they do have them."
A majority of the animals has gotten a clean bill of health, a department spokesman said.
Reviczky said the goats may ultimately be purchased and become part of a dairy goat herd, become backyard pets, sold as a "food source," or euthanized, depending on their medical conditions. He said the agency will "make a final decision on their fate based on the facts."
Rep. Bill Aman, R-South Windsor, has owned goats for 28 years and said the state's herd, if healthy, would fetch less than $6,000.
"In the current condition they are in, I wouldn't let them anywhere close to my farm, even if you had your veterinarian say that they are (healthy)," he said. "I know that it's harsh and everything else, but it does not make any sense to me financially or morally to keep those goats in that herd."