ALBUQUERQUE — The discovery of about 1,000 emaciated cows has prompted state officials to consider the unusual move of seizing a herd of cattle on a drought-stricken ranch near Fort Sumner.

New Mexico Livestock Board officials served a search warrant at the sprawling Double V Ranch on May 17 and found at least 25 dead animals and others at risk of starving to death, the Albuquerque Journal reported on Friday.

The owner, Richard Evans, was charged with 25 counts of cruelty to animals. A number listed for Double V Ranch was a fax number. No other listing was found for Evans.

If a judge orders seizure of the cows, it would mark the first large herd taken by the New Mexico Livestock Board.

"It is going to be a major deal," said Ray Baca, interim director of the board. "We're not actually funded for this kind of a major crisis."

The board had 75 employees and a budget of $5.6 million in fiscal year 2013.

Board inspector Barry Allen wrote in an affidavit for the search warrant that he observed 25 to 30 dead cattle at two locations on the ranch from public roadways during a May 14 inspection.

About eight carcasses appeared to have been deteriorating for about six months, "indicative of the malnourishment being an ongoing issue on this ranch," Allen wrote.

Live cattle at the ranch were in poor condition and nursing calves appeared stunted, he wrote. Allen also said he asked Evans about the condition of his cattle.

"Mr. Evans indicated he was aware of the situation and reasoned that dry weather, and drought conditions, along with his wife's recent passing were all contributing factors to his inability to properly provide nourishment to livestock," Allen wrote.

Officials do not have a precise estimate of how many cattle range on the 180,000-acre Double V Ranch about 25 miles south of Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. Baca estimates the size at about 1,000 animals.

Evans also owns land in Texas and South America.

Tom Rose, district attorney for the 10th Judicial District in Tucumcari, said he was working with board officials on a plan to care for the cattle if the herd is seized.