Joel Moser walks through rows of dead cattle at his Alvord, Iowa farm in October 2016. The cattle died of lead poisoning from a tractor battery mixed in with their feed ration.
Joel Moser walks through rows of dead cattle at his Alvord, Iowa farm in October 2016. The cattle died of lead poisoning from a tractor battery mixed in with their feed ration.

 

Last October The Cattle Business Weekly newspaper reported on a cattle poisoning incident at the Joel and Marilyn Moser farm at Alvord, Iowa. At the time of the initial report cattle at the Moser farm were dying due to lead poisoning from a battery that was found in the cattle feed. 

A Petition at Law seeking a jury trial was recently filed by the Mosers against defendant Tristan Kuenzi who was feeding cattle for the Mosers at the time of the poisoning. On Feb. 24 Kuenzi filed a counterclaim that denies the Mosers’ accusations and accuses them of slandering his name.

Here’s more on the story provided through numerous phone interviews and the lawsuits filed in the Iowa District Court for Lyon County.

 

The Poisoning

Joel and Marilyn Moser were traveling home from Florida on Oct. 9 when Joel Moser received a call from Kuenzi who was helping the Mosers while they were gone. Kuenzi stated a tractor battery had fallen into the feed mixer and was now in the cattle feed being consumed by the Moser cattle.

Moser quickly called his veterinarian who advised pulling all the feed out of the bunks. “I called Tristan back and told him to scoop out all the feed, but he said it was too late that the cattle had consumed it,” Moser says.  “I questioned that because it takes a while for the cattle to eat the feed.” 

Joel and Marilyn returned home that night from Florida. It would be almost two days before Moser began to see health concerns in his herd. First the cattle went off feed, and then they began to vocalize, became laterally recumbent and were paddling. The first cow died on the morning of Oct. 11.

“That’s when it all went to hell,” Moser says.

Moser contacted Dr. Austin Rozeboom from Moon Creek Veterinary Clinic of Rock Rapids, Iowa to begin treating the cattle, which consisted of 76 head of feedlot cattle and 14 head of cull cows and calves.

Kuenzi, who was responsible for feeding the cattle Oct. 5-9 for the Mosers, wasn’t around when the Mosers returned from Florida or during the following days when the cattle were being treated for poisoning.

Moser says he had a text message from Kuenzi asking about what they were doing for the sick cattle but hasn’t seen or been in contact with him since. 

“I just thought this was one big accident, but when he didn’t show up at the farm or call me to talk about what happened I began to wonder. All he would have had to do is call me. Not doing so, it felt like he was trying to hide something,” Moser says.

The Mosers decided to call the Lyon Country Sheriff’s Department regarding the cattle deaths. Detective Rick Bos worked the incident which the department ruled as accidental after speaking to Kuenzi, Moser and taking finger prints from various locations and equipment. 

“We believed the poisoning was accidental and when the lab finger print information came back that didn’t change our minds that it was accidental,” says Detective Bos.

Kuenzi, through his attorney, has declined to comment on what happened on the days he was responsible for feeding the Moser cattle.

 

The Tractor Battery

According to Moser’s lawsuit, the Moser loader tractor that Kuenzi used to load the feed into the mix wagon had become compromised four months earlier. 

A summary from the petition follows:

The Moser loader tractor utilized a 100lb battery, which was contained by a battery compartment with a ½ to 1-inch lip encasing the battery. Approximately four months before, the loader tractor’s grill became detached and had not been reattached. Moser used the loader tractor for the same chores and others for the four months with the front grill removed from the tractor without any issue even at various degrees of stopping, jolting, incline, and decline. At some point in time after Kuenzi started mixing the TMR but before he dispersed the feed to the cattle, the 100 lb battery from the loader tractor was disconnected from its cables and removed from its compartment. The loader tractor’s battery cables had not been damaged when the battery was disconnected.

The loader tractor does continue to operate without a battery after it has been started, but it will not start without a battery properly connected. Kuenzi used a separate tractor to hitch to the mixing wagon to feed the cattle the next day.

Moser contends Kuenzi negligently or intentionally, scooped the battery with the loader and placed it into the mixer wagon with the TMR for the cattle, resulting in the battery mixing with the feed. 

Lawyer Gene Collins represents Kuenzi. He says his client denied all counts last week. In Kuenzi’s counterclaim it states:

• Joel Moser concocted a story that his cattle were intentionally poisoned by Kuenzi and/or an unknown suspect.

• “Since a few days after Oct. 9, 2016, and continuing up to present, Moser has communicated to one or more individuals false statements that Kuenzi intentionally poisoned Moser’s cattle.

“In at least one version of Moser’s story, Moser alleged in communications to a mutual acquaintance of the parties a story to the effect that Kuenzi poisoned the cattle due to a vendetta Kuenzi has against Moser because Kuenzi was not included as a beneficiary in Kuenzi’s father-in-law’s last will and testament, and Moser and Kuenzi’s father-in-law are neighbors.”

The claim goes on to give more examples of slanderous statements and says, “Moser’s slanderous statements are reckless, malicious, and constitute a willful and wanton disregard for Kuenzi’s rights and reputation, thereby entitling Kuenzi to exemplary or punitive damages.” 

 

 

Accidental vs. Criminal

All but 15 head – 2 cull cows and 13 calves – of the cattle died. Those remaining can’t be sold because of lead levels that could take a year to drop Moser has been told. “So here we are feeding cattle that we can’t sell. Even when we do sell it won’t cover the cost of feed we had to put into them,” Moser says.

The Mosers did have the cattle insured through Farm Bureau Financial Services in Rock Rapids Iowa but were denied their claim. Agent Eric TeGrootenhuis commented on the case. 

“Accidental poisoning is excluded from coverage. Had the lead poisoning been criminal it would have been covered but we based everything on the final ruling of the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department,” TeGrootenhuis says. “This is just a horrible thing for the Mosers. No one intentionally poisons cattle.”

According to the Lyon County Attorney’s Office no criminal charges were filed against Kuenzi after the poisoning incident and thus the Moser’s Petition for Law is only civil litigation seeking damages.

“The whole situation is just really frustrating. I went from saving cattle and feeling bad for him (Kuenzi) to now wondering why he didn’t contact us in the days after. I wouldn’t treat another human being like he treated us,” Moser says. 

The Moser’s petition brings 20 counts of negligence or intent against Kuenzi. They are seeking “an amount that will fully and fairly compensate Plaintiffs for damages, together with interest and costs, as well as any and all other relief the Court deems appropriate,” says the petition.

District Judge Don Courtney was appointed Wednesday, March 1, to oversee the case.

“From here we go into the discovery stage where written questions from each side are answered. Following that there will be depositions and then a date for a trial will be set. It could be a year or more before a trial,” Collins says. Kuenzi’s lawyer declined to further comment on the case saying he was choosing not to litigate it out in public.