I-Team 8

Decatur County farmer charged with animal cruelty; 300 sheep relocated

GREENSBURG, Ind. (WISH) — James Hamilton lived on a farm until a few days ago when the Decatur County Health Department declared the home uninhabitable.

Hamilton raised hair sheep — they produce hair instead of wool — on the farm about a 15-minute drive northeast of Greensburg.

When police arrived, they found the home had from 2-3 feet of sheep feces in several rooms, and newborn sheep were scattered around the house.

Hamilton was formally charged Monday with three misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. By Wednesday, he was free on bond.  

The backlot of Deb Richards’ equine rescue outside of Greensburg is home to more than 300 hair sheep from Hamilton’s farmstead. The Decatur County sheriff and animal control officers had seized the animals.

Richards said, “There was a lamb trying to nurse off its mother that was dead.”

Richards volunteered to take the sheep after a friend from the Decatur County Sheriff’s Department called her. She arrived at the farm to pick up the sheep and experienced a sight she wasn’t prepared for.

“It’s like you go in and look somewhere and it’s like holy ‘you know,’ they are coming out of the woodwork. It’s like, what are we going to do with them? How are we going to keep these guys fed? It was like, wow. It was overwhelming,” Richards said.

Inside the house, police found close to a hundred sheep. On Wednesday, a health department sign on the front door said the home is not habitable.

At least two dozen dead sheep were found in the barns and in the fields.

Richards said, “There were some that were laying there struggling. Like, if you have been around animals in distress, you get an idea of what is coming next.”

She says dozens of the sheep were in distress. She nursed some back to health. Others haven’t made it.  

“If we can get the ewes healthy enough that they can survive having the lambs…. We have lost two here. One died I’m fairly certain because she couldn’t give birth,” Richards said.

One lamb was born at Richards’ rescue a few days ago. The mother was one of several pregnant sheep taken from the farm. In the past week, new lambs have populated a small room in one of Richards’ barns. The newborn lambs are fed every four hours. Richards is getting help from volunteers to care for and feed to sheep. She is funding most of the care out of her pocket.

The sheep will stay at Richards’ rescue until a judge decides whether to return them to Hamilton or to sell them at auction.

Hamilton was set to return to Decatur Superior Court on Tuesday, according to online court records.

This story was corrected with the name of the animal rescue operator.