Join Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions! Subscribe Today!

Cattle Mutilations: Getting Past the Sacred Cows

Among the many contentious sub-fields of phenomena associated with UFO research, perhaps none is quite so baffling as animal mutilation. Many of these apparent “mutilations” have been casually dismissed as the simple interventions of scavenging beasts, following the natural or otherwise mundane death of cattle or other livestock. Undoubtedly, this is true in some cases, although there are other instances where physical evidence points to a more complex phenomenon behind the mysterious deaths and mutilations.

The situation is complex enough that, during the 1970s, the FBI became involved in studies aimed at determining the possible factors underlying some of these incidents, although the depth to which they investigated the matter at the time has come under scrutiny. Writing for Skeptoid in 2015, Allison Hudson noted that, “[The FBI’s] investigation amounted to little more than collections of newspaper clippings because of jurisdictional issues, but they concluded that nothing seemed to be amiss in the deaths other than natural causes. This was a conclusion shared by other investigations.”

In a memorandum dated January 21, 1975, sent to the FBI Laboratory by the Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Division, the mutilations were described thusly:

“For the information of the Bureau, animals, mostly livestock, have been reported as mutilated in the three-state area of this division and parts of their bodies missing. The parts listed as missing have been the sexual organs, ears, lips and udders, and in some instances, the blood from the animals was considered ‘completely drained.’ No evidence of value ever located at the scene.”

The briefing goes on to note that state veterinarians who examined the remains “contend dead animals were eaten by other animals or varmints, believed to be foxes due to their sharp side teeth.” However, the notion that “no evidence of value” was ever collected at the scene of such mutilations is particularly curious, as it appears to contrast sharply with some of the law enforcement investigations and lab work conducted on the State and municipal level over the years.

Around the same time the briefing above was issued, mutilations were occurring in other parts of the country, and were under investigation by law enforcement. In his Alien Contact: Top Secret UFO Files Revealed, researcher Timothy Good recounted such an investigation that was underway in early 1975, under the supervision of the Coryell County deputy sheriff and Department of Public Safety. The incident involved the remains of a calf that was discovered at Copperas Cove, Texas, bearing many of what would become staples of the mutilation cases: sex organs had been “bloodlessly” removed with surgical precision, and peculiar impressions were found in the soil approximately forty yards from the calf that formed concentric circles, approximately 30 feet in diameter. Similar markings were found elsewhere in the same field, along with circular dispersals of dried grass which appeared to have been depressed by some object using “tremendous force,” along with the apparent removal of surface soil and stones in some areas.

“The DPS officials speculated that an aerial vehicle had been used in the operation,” Good wrote. “It was later learned that several residents near Copperas Cove and Killeen had observed a yellowish-orange light hovering over the farmland at around the same time as the mutilation.”

As Good notes of the Texas mutilations, the FBI initially was hesitant to become involved (despite memorandums that show Agents in some regions were looking into the matter around the same time, as outlined earlier). With the FBI maintaining a low profile in relation to the mutilations in the mid-1970s, local law enforcement was left to carry out most of the investigations at that time.

Officer Gabriel Valdez of the New Mexico State Police participated in the investigation of a similar incident that transpired on June 13, 1976, at the ranch of Manuel Gomez near Duke, New Mexico. FBI documents pertaining to this incident were later released by the FBI, and detail the incident as follows:

At the scene, writer examined carcass of a three-year-old black White-Faced cow which was lying on its right side. The left ear, the tongue, the udder, and the rectum had been removed with what appeared to be a sharp precise instrument. No traces of blood were left on the skin of the cow. .. . Other evidence on the cow was a small puncture on the brisket. No other evidence was available as to cause of death.


Investigations continued around the area and revealed that a suspected aircraft of some type had landed twice, leaving pod marks positioned in a triangular shape. The diameter of each pod part was 14″. The perimeter around the three pods was 16 1/2′


(6′ x 5′ x 5 1/2′). Emanating from the two landings were smaller triangular-shaped tripods 26″ apart and 4″ in diameter Investigation at the scene showed that these small tripods had followed the cow for approximately 600 feet. Tracks of the cow showed where she had struggled and fallen. The small tripod tracks were all around the cow. Other evidence showed that grass around the tripods, as they followed the cow, had been scorched. Also a yellow oily substance was located in two places under the small tripods. This substance was submitted to the State Police Lab. The Lab was unable to detect the content of the substance. . . .

The details given thus far are interesting, to say the least, in that a very detailed account is given of the appearance and measurements of the “tripods” which Valdez believed had followed the mutilated cow for 600 feet, whereafter forensic evidence apparently indicates she had “struggled and fallen.” The recovery of the oily substance beneath the tripods was also of interest, in that physical traces were left at the scene, despite the State Police Lab’s inability to identify it.

The report continues:

On 06-17-76 writer contacted a Mr. Howard Burgess from Albuquerque, N.M., to proceed to the scene and conduct a radiation test. This was three days after the incident had occurred. His findings were that around the tripod marks and in the immediate tracks, the radiation level was twice the normal background reading. Mr. Burgess’s qualifications may be checked as he is a retired scientist from Sandia Lab, Albuquerque. It is the opinion of this writer that radiation findings are deliberately being left at the scene to confuse investigators. . . .

The above statement is particularly interesting, and little has been said of the assessment Valdez makes in the final sentence: that the presence of radiation, rather than being some hallmark or indicator of the phenomenon itself, had instead been intended to confuse or misdirect any ensuing investigation. This is merely Valdez’s personal opinion; however, it is important to consider its implications on those grounds, since there is an obvious stereotype that often becomes associated with such mutilation reports. This, simply put, is the tried and true assumption that either 1) extraterrestrials did it, or that 2) anyone who suggests that forensic evidence in such cases points to something more complex than simple, natural deaths and predation by scavengers must, therefore, also buy the alien explanation. Neither assumption is valid, although plenty of people—skeptics and believers alike—are guilty of falling into such traps, which are based on bias and presumption, rather than logic.

There were other very important clues obtained during Valdez’s investigation, as Good points out. “Officer Valdez noted that in all the cattle mutilations that had occurred in New Mexico and surrounding states at that time, ‘the object of the mutilations has been the lymph node system’.” This is quite in contrast to the preoccupation many researchers seem to have on the removal of sexual organs and soft tissues in cattle mutilation cases and strongly suggests that the focus of the mutilations (supposing there had been a medical basis for such procedures) had been on the immune system.

The emphasis on lymphatic functions was not all that Valdez noticed. In one instance, a mutilated specimen in New Mexico was examined and found to have high concentrations of a specific chemical agent in the bloodstream. “[A] high dosage of Atropine insecticide was analyzed in the blood system,” Good wrote. “Since Atropine is a tranquilizing drug, this would imply that either government agents or private individuals were responsible in this case, yet the presence of the drug need not necessarily be related to the mutilation, and investigations into later cases failed to confirm the presence of such drugs.”

The significance of this bizarre twist seems obvious, and as Good has already outlined for us, “this would imply that either government agents or private individuals were responsible in this case.” The problem, of course, is that atropine is not necessarily a common feature of cattle mutilations. However, my colleague Nick Redfern, who has looked into such cases for a long time (point in case, his work is referenced by Timothy Good in the aforementioned book, which was published in 1991), notes that the presence of Atropine at least appears to have been discovered in a few other instances of cattle mutilations.

“What are the chances,” Nick asks, “of aliens from some far-away galaxy utilizing atropine to sedate cattle before systematically butchering them? Personally, I’d say the chances are practically zero.”

He further notes:

“In other words, while it is unlikely to satisfy those who so desperately wish to believe that the mutilations are the work of bug-eyed aliens from distant worlds, the presence of atropine in a significant number of the reports coming out of Dulce suggests we may be looking at a definitively home-grown operation – but one that utilizes the alien-motif as a convenient cover – focused on matters relative to biological-warfare and, perhaps, concerns about such worrying, and growing, issues as Creutzfeldt-Jacob-Disease, or Mad-Cow Disease, as it is more commonly known.”

It would be interesting to look through available resource literature and see if similar reports of Atropine in the bloodstream of these cattle might have been noted elsewhere, although there could be simple reasons why, even if it had been present, it may not have been detected in all cases. As Valdez noted in a separate investigative report pertaining to one of the Dulce cattle mutilations from around this time, “Investigation of these strange mutilations has been hampered by an inability to find laboratories which will perform tests and report accurate findings.” Had resources not been so limited to the state and municipal agencies that were investigating the deaths, there indeed might have been more relevant information about the mutilations that could have been obtained.

On a final unsettling note, according to Dr. Howard Burgess, a retired Sandia Laboratories scientist who was investigating cattle mutilations around the same time, splotches of fluorescent material had been found on the backs of some of the live cattle in the region, which was only visible under ultraviolet light.

Burgess wrote:

“To our amazement, three four-year-old cows and two young heifers had bright fluorescent splashes on their backs or top sides, fitting the pattern of animal types being mutilated in that area at that period. No markings were found on their sides, underneath, or lower parts. We were not able to find any liquid or solid in the corral or pasture that glowed with the same color or brilliance as the marks on the animals. The fluorescent marking was not from material picked up locally. If the animals were marked in advance, how was it done? When? By whom?”

The implications of Burgess’s views discussed here are indeed pretty disturbing, especially when compared to the final thoughts of Officer Gabriel Valdez on the subject:

“It is writer’s opinion that these animals have been marked for some time before they are mutilated. . . . It is writer’s theory that these animals are picked up by aircraft, mutilated elsewhere, and returned and dropped from aircraft. This is indicated from bruised marks and broken bones on cattle. Identical mutilations have been taking place all over the Southwest. . . no eye witnesses to these incidents have come forward. . . . One has to admit that whoever is responsible for the mutilations is very well organized, with boundless technology and financing and secrecy.”

As Allison Hudson, writing for Skeptoid noted in 2015, “For many, [the cattle mutilation] scenario is all too believable. They fear that extraterrestrial spaceships are kidnapping unsuspecting ungulates, conducting horrid vivisections, and then dumping the bodies.”

It’s a fair criticism since there are certainly plenty of people in the UFO community who wholeheartedly believe in an “alien” presence behind such reports; if anything, they wouldn’t have it any other way, and remain unwilling to look at other, more down-to-earth explanations. However, to assume that there may be more to some of these cases than mundane predation does not have to equate to belief in extraterrestrial visitation; nor does it require further sad conflagrations between the idea of unconventional aerial technologies that may be involved, and extraterrestrial visits to our planet, which remain unproven. 

Whatever was really going on behind those cattle mutilations during the 1970s (and even still today), was probably far from being anything as unusual or “paranormal” as popular literature on the subject would suggest–although that’s not to say that some of the mutilations aren’t downright bizarre. On the other hand, popular skeptical interpretations that chalk the entire affair up to willfully ignorant “UFOlogists” and credulous farmers, who overlooked the telltale signs of foxes, insects, and other natural means by which the mutilations could be explained, fall equally short of the mark. And for all their hours spent clipping articles from newspapers in order to get around jurisdictional constraints, the FBI didn’t seem to notice fluorescent splotches, atropine insecticide in cattle blood, soil disturbances, radiation, and other physical data when they lamented about “no evidence of value ever located at the scene.”

There does seem to be more to some of the cattle mutilations, although getting to the bottom of what that might be would require ideological researchers learning to put aside their own “sacred cows,” and look at what the evidence actually says. 


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
You can follow Micah on and