Kirsten Gross, the Director of Madera County's Animal Shelter said, "It appears something scared and startled them and they went off a cliffside." Keith told Action News, "Oh it was a shock, I felt so sorry for the cattle. The poor things didn't even have enough strength to make a sound."
Nearly a dozen cows survived the fall but couldn't climb out of the rocky hole. The impact killed the others and authorities believe they've been decomposing in mid-90 degree temperatures for a week. Gross said, "Obviously we have some health and safety issues with carcasses in the Fresno River."
The rugged area is normally submerged by the roaring Fresno River. Only every summer the Madera County Irrigation District cuts off the flow.
Keith said, "I'm concerned with the health hazard. We have wells all along this river and whether it will seep into our wells or not is another concern."
The cattle rancher didn't return our calls but Sunday a group of his friends tried to remove the dead animals with only cables and a pickup truck.
Neighbors worry that without professional equipment it could take days. As of Sunday afternoon, not even one cow had been hauled away.
Keith said the farmer was upset because, "He thinks he could have probably saved 10 or 11 of them." Keith himself said he was disturbed.
That Madera County Sheriff Deputies didn't give the farmer a chance to save the pricey animals that did survive. "The Sheriff's Department told him that they didn't have time to stand around all day for him to make a decision. And he says well, you do what you have to do and so they shot em all."
Authorities with Animal Control said the cows were too far gone to recover. "It would have been too traumatic for them to get a rescue in there and pull them out; they wouldn't have survived the ordeal."
A Madera County Sheriff's Department spokesperson said deputies consulted with the Fish and Game Department and Animal Control and both agreed that even if the cows were rescued they were too sick to survive. The farmer is facing a significant financial loss. Each cow is worth an estimated $1,000.