NOBULL: Death on the Farm — American farmers are killing themselves at a shocking rate.

Death on the Farm

By Max Kutner / April 10, 2014 6:12 AM EDT

American farmers are a dying breed, in part because they’re killing themselves at a shocking rate. Priest + Grace

On January 21, 2010, a cold, clear day, Dean Pierson woke up early, as usual. The 59-year-old put on a pair of blue jeans and a hooded coat before the sun was up, then went to his barn, turned on the lights, closed all the doors and windows, powered off the fans and cranked up the volume on the radio. He then shot each of his milking cows with a .22-caliber N1 carbine rifle, about 51 of them, between their horns and eyes, hitting their brains and killing them instantly. Pierson then sat down in a wooden chair with an upholstered seat, pulled a ski mask over his face, picked up a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and shot himself once in the chest.

Around 9 or 9:30, a truck driver from the Agri-Mark co-op arrived to collect milk from Pierson’s tanks. The driver saw a note attached to the barn door warning whoever found it not to enter and to call the police. He called his dispatcher, who called Pierson’s milk inspector, who telephoned Bill Kiernan, the farmer next door.

Kiernan sent his grown son, Walter, and an employee to check on their neighbor. On the way to the barn, Walter ran into Dean’s mother, Pauline, who lived on the farm and happened to be out walking down the road. The two of them entered through the side door while the employee went through the back. Walter spotted Pierson first. Behind the blood-soaked chair, on a narrow wooden desk attached to the wall, were two notes written on yellow cards used to tag cows. One of them had words and phrases written like bullet points: Lonely. Discouraged. Overwhelmed. No hope. Can’t go on. Danger to my family. Worn out. The kids are so talented. Gwynne you are a good person. The other note simply said, So sorry. MORE