Hadley farmer facing cruelty charges after investigation finds animals ‘in serious trouble’


  • Shannon Rice-Nichols has kept animals at this farm in Hadley. She is facing 35 felony counts of animal cruelty for alleged ill-treatment of the cows and goats in her care. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 2022

AMHERST — A Hadley woman is facing 35 counts of felony animal cruelty for keeping neglected and malnourished cows and goats, including three animals that had to be euthanized, following an investigation at an Amherst farm, according to the law enforcement arm of the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Shannon Rice-Nichols, 49, will be arraigned May 12 in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown on the felony animal cruelty charges. Animal cruelty is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000.

The MSPCA, in a statement, reported that eight head of very rare Kerry cattle, one Holstein cow and 22 Saanen, Lamancha and Alpine-mix goats are among the animals that were part of an investigation at the unidentified farm March 14. Those animals are now available for adoption at the MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen.

The case began when Amherst’s animal welfare officer, Carol Hepburn, sought MSPCA’s assistance, and a team responded to the farm, said Tom Grenham, director of law enforcement for the MSPCA.

“It was very clear upon arrival that the animals were in very serious trouble, with one cow having already died and the others in need of dire medical attention,” Grenham said.

One cow and two goats that were suffering were euthanized at the farm. A veterinarian found that all the cows were severely neglected and malnourished, and infected with parasites. Similarly, the goats were described by the veterinarian as severely neglected and malnourished, too, and infected with internal and external parasites.

“Unfortunately, our team was unable to save three animals who needed to be humanely euthanized by a veterinarian on the scene, which reinforces the disturbing nature of the case,” Grenham said.

Rice-Nichols, who has been active in the local farming community, operating the Farmer and The Cheese wholesale operation for several years from sites on Bay Road in Hadley, referred questions about the case to her attorney, Marissa Elkins of Elkins, Auer, Rudof, & Schiff LLC in Northampton. Elkins didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

With plans to have a more visible base for her operations, in April 2021 Rice-Nichols purchased the former farm stand and ice cream parlor at 10 Rocky Hill Road in Hadley, turning that into the Farm Shop & Cafe.

A GoFundMe page created last fall, titled “Buy a Farmer Time to Heal,” describes Rice-Nichols as a farmer who provided free eggs, chicken and beef to vulnerable communities and supported other small family farms, until experiencing “a serious physical injury.” That online fundraiser brought in $3,480 of a $5,000 goal.

The MSPCA was assisted by Amherst police and the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources’ Division of Animal Health.