Rustlers! Seriously?

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When you hear the word “rustler” your mind can’t help but conjure up images of riders on horseback lurking on the brushy outskirts of some prairie waiting for the moment to strike out and cut one, two, or thirty head of prime beef from the drovers taking the herd to the railhead for shipment “back east”.

Like robbers, murderers, embezzlers and any other type of criminal you can think of that existed in the days of old and that our society is plagued with still, rustlers too exist today and are the cause of millions of dollars worth of loss to our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

One reason why stealing cattle is lucrative is the high prices generally received for livestock. Many readers who own small herds or even a single milk cow may feel they have little to nothing to fear as some producers have lost truckloads of animals worth $250,000 and more in a single incident. But if you have only four head of cattle and lose two to a thief, then you have just lost 50% of your herd. So you will indeed be bothered with losses of one or two animals at a time, particularly if it occurs over the course of several months.

The National Cattlemen’s Association indicates that livestock theft is likely the most significant crime that occurs in rural America. The primary reason for their stand on this issue is that not only do cattle producers incur significant financial loss as a result of the expenses put into the animals and the lost potential revenue from their sale, there is also the loss of future breeding herds and significant bloodlines.

Another major concern that is seldom considered is the fact that many stolen cattle are then sold with fraudulent health certification and disease tracking records. This single issue presents an incredible risk to the both domestic and international trade from the US. A single diseased calf, stolen and then sold may have not only contaminated the herd from which it was stolen, but now too the animals with which it has been placed until it can be sold.

A concern for many of us that own small herds or one or two animals that we intend to raise for our own sustenance is the theft of an animal intended for the same purpose which we had in mind for it (placing next to our homegrown potatoes, beans and carrots). The economy crisis that our nation faces has greatly intensified the level of desperation for many. That is no excuse in my book because stealing is stealing regardless of the cause or reason. Ask me and I’ll feed you, steal from me and you go to jail if caught.

Many of you, like me have a small piece of land in comparison to the ranchers previously mentioned who may have to travel 11 or more miles to check his mail never leave his boundary line. Those of us who maintain small acreage have an advantage when it comes to accounting for and keeping a closer look-out on our livestock. I know how time consuming and labor intensive raising livestock can be, but too often when the chores are done, it is “out of sight-out of mind”. So to ensure that you don’t become a victim of the “yeller bellied scoundrel rustler” or at least lessen the likelihood, let us consider some measures we can take to protect our investment.

What you can do

Like any security measure, your efforts should attempt to accomplish three things:

  1. Deter- Implement measures that will cause a potential thief to look for an easier target. Make his risk higher than his potential gain.
  2. Delay- Don’t make it easy for him. Lock or block gates and livestock shelters. Keep your fences and gates in good repair. Gate hinges should have a cap put on them so that they cannot be easily lifted off the hinges.
  3. Detect- Lighting is very important in both deterring and detecting thieves. Stand-by lighting (often referred to as motion sensor controlled) is considerably cheaper than in the past and it reduces cost in terms of maintenance and utility fees. Additionally, alarms whether store bought or tin cans tied to a fence or gate are worth the investment if it saves you just one head of beef. Another plus is that many electronic devices are now solar powered or can be powered by a solar source.

Another option that can assist you in accomplishing all three of the above in addition to being a great addition to the family is a dog. I know very little about dogs other than I like them tremendously and they tend to raise a pretty loud alarm anytime something is out of the ordinary or if he/she gets a whiff of something or someone that doesn’t belong. And they work cheap!

Don’t rule out geese or guineas, both of which really know how give a rowel when disturbed.

Walk your property and consider it from the thief’s point of view. If you were going to steal your livestock, consider where, when and how you would go about doing it and check your livestock on a daily basis if you can. Check the fields, and fences where the animals are grazing, especially if you live anywhere near a stockyard/stock auction and there is a scheduled sale coming up to ensure suspected losses are recognized and reported to the police as soon as possible.

Pay particular attention to any fields or pastures that border roadways. Make sure that you locate livestock pens or loading ramps away from these public roads or main entrances to your property and keep them locked when not in use and ensure loading ramps are stored out of sight when not in use.

Be active and visible on your property and leave evidence such as tire tracks demonstrating that you check your fields frequently.

Always be aware of strangers or unfamiliar vehicles in your area. When my wife and I first moved to our place in the country, I made a conscious effort to see how many vehicles I noticed traveling down the road in front of our home. I counted only nine and am sure I didn’t miss many as I was working close to the road most of the day. It would be relatively easy for me to take notice of people who are out of place, don’t belong or are suspicious. So if you notice a suspicious person or vehicle, write down their license plate number and all other relevant information and notify your neighbors.

I cannot stress enough the benefit of neighbors looking out for neighbors. I know we may not always agree with the politics, ideals or other characteristics of those who live on the other side of our boundary lines, but if on no other issue we can agree to watch out for each other when it comes to crime prevention, we will obtain a higher level of security and peace of mind. If you have two or more incidents where someone has accessed your property, notify your neighbors and ask them to be on the lookout for the same thing happening to them.

Talk with your neighbors, tell them when you are away from your property and where you can be reached.

Reporting a theft

If you realize you are a victim of livestock theft, report the incident immediately to law enforcement. Some believe it is a waste of time because a theft is so very difficult to prove, or the amount of time between the crime discovery and when it actually occurred. However, the police or sheriff’s office needs to be alerted of the theft, even if some time has passed and regardless of the number of stock missing. There may be a pattern of crime in the area or region and the more information they have, the higher the likelihood is of catching the perpetrators.

When reporting a livestock theft:

  • Do not disturb anything in and around the area involved until the officers arrive.
  • Do not allow people or animals in and around the area or in areas where entry was possibly made.

You will need to provide the officers with an accurate description of your animals including:

  • The breed, age, and sex of your animals
  • The type of identification used and the numbers
  • Where the livestock was located
  • When you last checked on them

Every rural agency, office or association emphasizes the importance of livestock identification and accurate farm records for tracing stolen livestock. Often times, officers are provided training to better equip them for investigating these types of crimes, especially in rural areas. Identifying your livestock is absolutely essential for the return of the stolen livestock, and the eventual conviction of the offenders. There can be several witnesses to a livestock theft, but without positive identification, the thief will never be prosecuted. Identifying your livestock can be accomplished by using ear tags, earmarks, tattooing, branding, etc.

Some states require that brands are registered in the state and it may even be illegal to brand livestock without registering first! So if this is a route you want to consider, make sure you check the laws of your state before you begin the process.

While it won’t prevent or even deter theft, to better make claim for your animals should they be recovered, you should take photographs of your livestock with any brand and/or ear tag clearly visible with some aspect of your farm, such as a building shown in the picture.

“These people were organized and sophisticated,” They had to know how to get across my neighbor’s place and into my pastures. They rounded up my cattle without making much noise; probably with dogs. And they went back out the same way they came in. They’re pretty slick.”

Bob Herndon, Christian County, MO

Lost $18,000 worth of livestock overnight!


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