Cattle shootings stun Alberta ranch family

A heifer and bull were killed in separate incidents near Onoway, while a pregnant cow was also shot but survived

An Alberta ranching family is offering a $5,000 reward to find out who shot three of their cattle in three separate incidents, damaging their livelihood and raising fears for their personal safety.

“I feel like I’ve gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson and he’s ripped off both my ears,” says Sherry Thoveson as she and her husband, Scott Williams, talk about how the shootings have affected them.

The Parkland RCMP believe it’s no accident three of the family’s herd were shot between Sept. 4 and Oct. 11. Investigators are regarding the attacks as targeted, with a heifer and a breeding bull killed in separate events.

A third bred cow, which survived, was also separately attacked, says Williams. The bullet lodged in its optic nerve, forcing the removal of its eye, he says.

The shootings occurred on the 410-acre Thoveson Williams Angus Ranch in Rich Valley just north of Onoway, a rural area in Lac Ste. Anne County northwest of Edmonton. Williams says it’s possible that when the unknown person or persons “shot up the bull, and they shot him four times, it was in the direction of our daughter’s bedroom.”

No one, including neighbours, heard or saw any gunfire. The cattle were discovered after the fact.

The stress caused by the shootings is starting to wear Williams out.

“You lay awake at night, not able to sleep, because you’re worried you’re going to sleep through a gunshot, worried that, you know, maybe this time they’ll walk up your drive,” he says.

The family reported the loss of the heifer on Sept. 5, followed by the bull on Oct. 9 and the serious injury to the bred cow on Oct. 11, says Const. Shelley Nasheim of the Parkland RCMP.

“We’re really hoping that someone may have some knowledge and will come forward,” she says, calling the shootings a cruel and despicable act.

The breeding bull was nearing its prime, says Thoveson.

“You don’t always know what you’ve got when you first get a yearling bull, so you sometimes kiss a lot of frogs before you find a really good one, and when you find those good ones, then you’ve already invested a lot of time and money into them before you know how good they are,” she says.

The bull’s death represents the loss of potentially 100 calves it would have sired, along with genetics that are likely irreplaceable. It affects the future of a ranch that has been built up from her late father’s small herd of 10 purebred Herefords about 40 years ago, she says.

“When he first started, he sold his trucking business and decided he wanted to have purebred cattle because he always dreamed about it when he was a kid,” she says.

“My father passed away in ’98, and my mother and I continued. And Scott and the kids have now joined in, and my mom is still an active part of the farm, and she’s 78.”

The family’s herd of purebred Black Angus stands at more than 100, says Williams.

While immediate financial loss hurts — more than $10,000 for the heifer and bull, plus more than $2,000 for veterinary bills and further treatment for the injured bred cow — the cows are more than just property, says Williams.

“They’re like family, when you spend as much time with them as we do,” he says.

Thoveson and Williams “are just as confused as the investigators as to why this is happening,” says Nasheim. The thought of someone potentially targeting their herd due to some sort of personal grudge leaves Williams incredulous, almost to the point of amusement.

“You know what, as a typical rancher, you don’t have time to get in trouble” with other people, he says. “You’re too busy. We have another full-time business just trying to support the ranch, and between that and having this many cattle, and trying to get ready for winter, we don’t have, you know, there’s no …”

Thoveson finishes her husband’s words. “I can’t imagine,” she says.

The second full-time business is Williams’ graphics company, which makes signs for everything from farms and ranches to stock trailers. It has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, he says.

“You have to have a business to support your ranching habit,” he says.

But like everything else “in this economy since 2014, it hasn’t been kind in Alberta,” says Thoveson. “Things have been slowly grinding down to everybody’s hurting, and so this is sort of insult to injury.”

Further complicating the family’s finances is the fact they now have to protect their cattle by restricting their pastures, ensuring they stay away from a bordering road, says Thoveson.

“We just don’t know how we’re going to manage the cattle, if we can’t safely have them on that land,” she says. “We may have to downsize, or you just don’t know.”

The couple plans to offer $5,000 as a reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest and conviction, says Williams.

The cause of the first death involving the heifer was initially regarded by a veterinarian as unknown, but the circumstances were suspicious enough that Williams used a metal detector on the carcass and found a bullet.

He advises ranchers and farmers to be vigilant about investigating livestock deaths and to report any suspicious activity to the RCMP.

“This is what baffles us,” he says. “We have no enemies. We have no reason to be fearful. But now we are. We’re just hard-working Albertans.”

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