Billings Flying Service has donated use of a helicopter to airlift hay Thursday morning to some of the more isolated horses at the former Leachman Cattle Co. Home Place ranch east of Billings.
“We’ll use a Bell 205 helicopter. We’ll put the hay in a cargo net and carry it underneath the helicopter in round bales and drop in from a fairly high altitude so the bales break up,” said Gary Blain, who owns Billings Flying Service with his brother Al Blain.
Gary and Al Blain will load the round bales, weighing up to 1,500 pounds, into slings to be flown to the hungry horses ranging over an estimated 40,000 acres.
“We do it a lot. We do reclamation work for the Forest Service dropping straw over burn areas,” Gary Blain said. “It will scatter out really nice.”
The Blains normally rent out their Bell 205 for $1,800 an hour, but are donating their chopper, the aviation fuel and their time.
The horses have been roaming the ranch 16 miles east of Billings along Highway 87E for years in the winter without supplemental feed and eating snow for water. But this year, an estimated 350 horses kept in one 2,600-acre pasture, hadn’t had much to eat for a month, said Shepherd Veterinarian Jeff Peila, who helped gather evidence for a search warrant on the property.
On Jan. 21, the Yellowstone County Attorney filed charges against Leachman that include five main misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and five alternative counts. He is scheduled to appear in Justice Court on Friday afternoon.
Leachman has denied that some of his horses wearing his Hairpin Cavvy brand are starving, saying they have grazed successfully on the ranch for years.
Allegations in the charges include a lack of adequate food and water for some of the horses, as well as plastic marking leg bands that have crippled at least one horse. Two other horses were euthanized Jan. 15 and three more were found dead.
Leachman lost the ranch at a U.S. Marshals Service foreclosure sale on July 15, 2010. Leachman has one year from that date to redeem the property by buying it back.
The neighboring Stovall family bought Leachman’s Home Place ranch, and Turk Stovall and his wife, Jenny, are managing it. On Aug. 27, the Stovalls sent a letter to Leachman demanding that the horses be removed within 10 days, but that didn’t happen.
Jim Glenn of Sidney, Iowa, who has been friends with Leachman for 30 years, said he repeatedly offered to finance a horse sale last year to reduce the herd size, but Leachman refused. Despite being owed more than $30,000 for a previous Leachman sale, Glenn said he’s willing to try again.
“I offered to help him put on sales in May, in September and October. And, basically, I would do it now, today. I would buy the horses and sell them all today just to keep him out of jail,” Glenn said.
If there is a sale, Glenn said he would handle the money, so he could pay the sale expenses and himself first.
“My opinion is the whole thing is political between Turk and Jim, and I feel the horses are a pawn that both of those guys are using to fight this battle,” he said.
Glenn said he helped Leachman gather and sort the horses last September.
“He had the thin and old mares in separate pastures and they were where he could take care of them. It was after that that Turk gathered the horses and put them into the Tschirgi pasture,” Glenn said. “Turk put locks on the gates just before Christmas and Jim cut them off. The horses got mixed and resorted.”
The estimated 350 horses in the Tschirgi pasture need the most care, said Shepherd Veterinarian Jeff Peila, who gathered evidence on their condition for the county attorney and the Montana Department of Livestock.
However, the Stovalls’ attorney, Jon Doak of Billings, disputed Glenn’s statements, saying Leachman has no right to sort or keep his horses on the Stovall family’s deeded and Crow Reservation leases.
“The horses are not a pawn. The horses should have been removed. Leachman Cattle Co. lost the ranch and any rights he may have had with it,” Doak said.
Despite that, Doak said the Stovalls offered to let Leachman hold a sale on the ranch in September, if he paid for all the advertising and bought liability insurance.
“Mr. Glenn came back and said those conditions were not acceptable to Mr. Leachman,” Doak said.
A couple that owns the Valley M Ranch in Red Lodge has pledged 100 tons of timothy grass hay to help the horses. The Home Place ground is too muddy for a semi-trailer, so Valley M and some neighboring ranchers from Red Lodge plan repeated trips until Saturday with flatbed trailers to haul all the hay.
Another 150 tons of hay have been promised, along with $7,500 in cash donations and other donations of feed and water tanks, said Justin Mills, executive director of the Northern International Livestock Exposition in Billings, which is coordinating Operation Home Place.
The springlike weather has melted the snow and ice, so there is standing water now for the horses, Mills said.
Contact Jan Falstad at firstname.lastname@example.org of 406-657-1306.