It was 3 a.m. on a Sunday in July and Bill McGee was awakened by “panicked bawling”of calves in the pasture near his house.

“I told my wife, Patsy, who’d been awakened too, that something must be spooking the calves. I figured it was coyotes; we hear them at night from time to time, but they’ve never bothered any of the cows.

“I grabbed my .20-gauge shotgun loaded with bird shot and went outside to see what was the matter.”

The scene that greeted him was like something from a horror movie.

A tan pit bull was clamped down on the head of one of the three-month-old calves, and another pit bull was nearby.

“I fired my shotgun at the dog and it ran away,” Bill says.

Surveying the damage in the immediate area, he found one heifer dead, one missing an ear, and others with chunks bitten out of their legs or rumps.”

As bad as that was, McGee was to discover when daylight came that in another pasture three more heifers were dead and a half-dozen others were missing ears and tails, or had gaping wounds where the dogs had slashed them.

“It was just pitiful — blood everywhere, like a war zone,” he says. “It was one of the most sickening sights I’ve seen in all my years in this business.”

The following night, a family friend, Mark Murphy, patrolled the herd in case the dogs returned. About 10 p.m., four dogs came back and launched another attack. Murphy managed to shoot one, but the others ran away. And another heifer was dead.

“We lost six calves, weighing 200 lbs. to 400 lbs.,” McGee says. “Those that were mangled have survived, but their usefulness may be limited.”

While the nearby city of Starkville has a leash ordinance that is strictly enforced, there are no regulations governing stray dogs in the county.

The sheriff’s department investigated the incidents, McGee says, “but of course no one would admit to ownership of the dogs.”

Nationwide each year, thousands of cows, calves, and sheep are killed by roving dogs, farm organizations report.