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Cattle case closed

A tip from a Wilkin County farmer led to the recovery of 17 calves stolen from Douglas, Todd and Stearns counties Thursday.

The calves were stolen from eight farms throughout the three counties over the past two weeks.

According to Todd County Investigator Scott Dirkes, they were located on a farm south of Barnesville.

Jesse Robert Ronsberg, 19, of Rothsay and a 16-year-old male from Barnesville were arrested. Ronsberg was booked into the Wilkin County Jail on theft charges and the juvenile was later released to his parents.

Dirkes said the suspects had retagged all the calves after stealing them, but were cooperative in assisting with the identification of the calves.

After contacting the farmers, all of the calves were returned to their rightful owners by Thursday evening.

"We owe a great deal of gratitude to the Wilkin County Sheriff's Office," Dirkes said. "They were extremely helpful with this case."

Osakis dairy farmers Bob Massmann and Norb and Lori Johnson traveled to Barnesville to identify and retrieve their three missing calves.

Massmann said the calves appeared to be fed and well cared for during their 12 days away from home.

Although all turned out well, Massmann said the incident will remain in his mind for some time.

"It does bother you quite a bit," he said. "It makes you wonder about people today. Just going on a farm and taking what's not theirs."


Bob Massmann and his brother, Bruce, first noticed they were missing a calf at their farm on County Road 2 in Osakis before morning milking Sunday, November 21.

They looked all over the place, Bob said, and soon noticed a second calf was gone.

The missing calves included a 250-lb., 2-month-old heifer calf and an 80-lb., 2-week-old twin heifer calf.

A third calf appeared to be targeted in the theft - the heifer had her tag ripped from her ear.

Bob said he thought the culprits must have had a plan and known what they were doing because the drizzly weather left no tracks and only one pail was out of place.

They keep both their heifer and bull calves in five group pens in their old milking barn. In order to take the calves, the person had to drive past the house to the barn.

The same morning, about five miles away, Norb and Lori Johnson were ready to blame the coyotes for their single missing calf.

The 1-month-old Holstein was the only calf that didn't have an ear tag.

All of their calves were in hutches located near the house. The 150-pound calf that was stolen was in a Polydome - the furthest from the road.

One calf may not seem like a big deal, except they were short heifers this year, so to have one stolen was a shock and big disappointment, Lori explained.

They were still searching the fields and pasture when they received a call from the Massmanns who said they had some missing calves.

Lori said she's heard of things like this happening, but not in this area.

"It gives you a feeling of insecurity," she said. "If someone will come into your yard to take your calf... it's hard to feel safe."

After more than a week passed, Lori was shocked to have the calf recovered.

Both the Massmanns and the Johnsons expressed their appreciation of the Todd, Douglas and Stearns county sheriff's departments for working together to solve this case.

"They worked hard, followed through and retrieved our calves," Lori said. "Our hats go off to them."

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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