BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A helicopter on Thursday airlifted 10 tons of hay, and deputies hauled even more to a ranch east of Billings where hundreds of horses are starving.
The Billings Gazette reports that small bands of horses started eating the hay when the bales broke up on impact. The hay was expected to last a few days, until colder weather hardens roads enough to drive more to the animals.
The horses belong to James H. Leachman, who was supposed to remove them last July when his business, Leachman Cattle Co., lost the ranch at a federal foreclosure sale. He ran a horse breeding business called Hairpin Cavvy.
Five horses have died. A Montana veterinarian has warned that others would start dying if they did not receive food.
Sheriff Mike Linder, who drove a loaned tractor, said the volunteer response has been great.
"I spent three hours on the phone, and, in three hours, the hitch was being built, I had the tractor and the helicopter lined up," he said.
Al Blain, who owns Billings Flying Service with his brother, said an estimated 300 to 400 horses gathered in the drop area.
Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office officials hauled more hay with a tractor and a flatbed to about 75 horses stuck in an isolated pasture.
The Northern International Livestock Exposition had collected $10,000 in cash donations and about 250 tons of hay by Thursday.
Leachman was scheduled to appear Friday on multiple charges of animal cruelty. One telephone number listed under his name was disconnected, and a message left at another number was not immediately returned.
Turk Stovall, whose family now owns the ranch, said Leachman's horses have been grazing there for six months.
Stovall said he couldn't continue to let the horses graze with his cows calving and the need for the spring grass.
"These horses would never have had a chance if we hadn't said we need some help out here," Stovall said.