Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Protecting Your Livestock From Rustlers

Dear Readers,

Cattle rustling, or livestock stealing, is still a felony no matter where you are and it still takes place more often than most people are aware. In many cases they require a lot of research, several means of identifying ownership including a DNA test, cooperation of the victims, and a list of local law enforcement officials.

Cattle thefts across the nation are not rare, particularly with today’s high cattle prices. This is why it is so important for ranchers to brand and keep count of their cattle -- as well as their other livestock and equipment. It's important to try to keep your livestock safe from potential rustlers, particularly if you are located in an area where cattle rustling is known to occur, or when events such as drought or a natural disaster give rise to crimes of opportunity.

There are several ways to protect your cattle from being stolen. Let's take a look at a few ways to protect your cattle, and other livestock, from rustlers.

Protecting Your Livestock From Rustlers

1) Maintaining Good Records

  • Keep and maintain good records and documents for the livestock you own is the first line of defense when trying to prove that your livestock has been stolen.
  • Ownership documentation. Consider keeping both hard copies and computer generated records so that you have duplicates.
  • Maintaining  good records of the cattle you own is simply good business practice, but it is also your first line of defense when it comes to proving what was stolen is indeed yours.
  • For that reason keep these records in a safe location. The best place to keep health, reproductive, purchase/sale and identification records of your cattle is in your own house or even in a safe.
  • Keep them in a file where only you know where they are, and be sure to keep both hard copies (paper files) and downloaded records on your computer on a separate drive in case one set is lost.
  • Another great source of record, and one that is very hard to dispute, is a photograph. Photographs of your livestock would be a good thing to keep in your computer files along with other documentation.
  • Keeping records of your cattle is a good thing to do, even if you're not at risk of having cattle stolen off you.
  • But, in case you have to go to court against rustlers, well maintained records will serve as proof that those animals are rightfully yours and that they are not mere strays.

2) Branding & Tags
  • Make sure all of your cattle have their tags and/or have been branded with the brand of your farm or ranch. Branding and/or tagging is essential. Brand inspections and tag identification is important for law enforcement when checking livestock being transported.
  • Branding is an age old process and today it is just as important as it ever was to brand your livestock and/or secure ear tags.
  • Cattle without tags tend to be bigger targets for theft than those who have tags or even buttons. Besides being better targets, livestock that are not tagged or branded are an easier target for rustlers to sell off.
  • Cattle that are not branded are fair game for rustler, but even branded cattle are still liable to be stolen.
  • Depending on the type of brand your farm or ranch has, brands can be switched or altered.
There are rustlers who have mastered the skill of switching brands just like rustlers were able to do back in the days of the Old West. But unlike the Old West, in today's world, time is money and realistically a rustler would rather not fool around trying to switch brands. Frankly, he'd rather get in, get the cattle, get out to sell them off as soon as possible. Because of that, brands on the cattle are a form of deterrent.

3) Check Your Livestock

  • Accounting is important. 
  • Check your livestock regularly. 
  • Count and make sure they’re all there. 
  • This ensures that none have been stolen and also helps you monitor their health. 
  • Doing a regular physical count of your animals can be a peace a of mind. 
  • As many times as you normally need to go out to check them, making sure you do a headcount to ensure that they are all there is not that hard or time consuming. 
  • This not only ensures that none have been stolen, it also makes sure that none of your animals have found a way off your property, made a hole in a fence, have decided to make an escape, or if you have a sick or lame animal.

A headcount is also a good way to tell if you have an extra visitor, or two in your herd that are not supposed to be there. Maybe your neighbor's stock crossed a broken fence and made its way into your herd? By returning such animals to neighbors, you build up a trustworthy rapport that will be returned in kind if needed. Besides, it's what neighbors do for each other.

4) Make Your Property Secure

While most of us have our loading chutes at the pens where they are needed, most of our pens are not near our homes.  Because of this our handling facilities, or loading areas, are usually out of sight and hearing.

  • A first step to deter the theft of livestock is to locate loading facilities near our residence and equip gates with heavy-duty locks and or chains.
  • Thieves are less apt to target your ranch if the loading facilities are near an occupied home.
  • Remote loading chutes may be inviting to rustlers if they know that no one will see or hear them out away from where people can hear them.
  • If loading facilities are not located close to our residence to make it difficult to steal without disturbing us, they should be far enough into our land and off the main road that it takes, in the thieves' minds, too much time and hassle to travel to get to them to use.
  • Permanent facilities that are located far away from the road or are quite literally hidden from view of the road tend to discourage most thieves. The opposite is true with loading chutes near a main road.

This is simply because thieves need to be quick about their business, and having to drive a long way into your land can put a bit of a nervous edge on them.
  • Loading chutes hidden out of sight is usually out of the mind of a thieve. Instead of inviting a thieve to use your equipment to load your cattle into a waiting truck on a road, a loading facility without being seen from the road is a deterrent.
  • To be unfriendly to rustlers, handling facilities and load areas must have only a one-way access to and from such facilities or areas. 
If your facilities have more than one way out and in, you will find out fairly quickly that it will be all too easy for rustlers to go in and get out without being noticed by you or your neighbors.
  • It is ideal to have the exit and entry point of that one-way-access to run by your residence that is located on the farm. This is so you can easily and quickly know if someone is coming up your drive way at a time of night when normally no-one would even consider doing such a thing.
  • If you haven't done so already, install a heavy iron livestock gate at the entrance/exit where you or trucks must enter from the road to get to the handling facilities.
  • Your gate must be kept shut and locked at all times, except when you are around to keep an eye out for trouble and when it's needed to ship cattle in or out.
  • Locked gates, especially those with a heavy bolt lock and not just a chain or latch, act as a deterrent to rustlers.
  • They are also a great signal to alert you if a cattle thief did indeed attempt to steal your animals and was desperate enough to break and enter.
  • Make sure all access points to where your cattle are located are secure.  This means making sure the gates, both wire and swinging, are done up properly and securely.
  • As with any rural crime, limited access points allow easier detection by residents, neighbors, or ranch managers.
  • You may also want to consider checking them regularly. 
  • Check locks and chains regularly to make sure they haven’t been tampered.  
  • Also limit who has keys to your property.

5) Make Your Equipment Secure

  • Keep your possessions in a secure area. 
  • You should make sure most of your vehicles, trailers, machinery, and other equipment are locked up in a secure building. This is important because sometimes the thieves may be interested in more than just your cattle.
  • If not in a secure building, park your vehicles, trailers and other mobile equipment in secure areas. 
  • Your trailers should have proper vehicle identification number, license plates and your Owner Applied number on them. 
  • A copy of all of that information should be kept with your other records away from the vehicles.
  • Keep the keys in your house. 
  • Have a duplicate set made and keep that set with someone you trust to keep them safe for you -- especially if you have to be away for several days.
  • Keep keys to these vehicles inside your residence is the right thing to do. 
  • Make sure you separate a vehicle's keys from the vehicle.
  • In numerous vehicle thefts, police report after police report indicate the same sorry fact that most of stolen vehicles had their keys located inside the vehicle when it was stolen.
  • If you have so many keys that you need to set-up a key station, maintain employee use by enforcing responsibility by having employees use a sign-in/out key log. This will help ensure that keys are not left in vehicles.
  • If your employees drive your ranch vehicles make sure that they adhere to this policy.

6) Be Vigilant

  • Be on the lookout for strangers. 
  • Keep vigilant as who is and isn't supposed to be around your neighbor's property.
  • Get up and check your place when your dog starts barking in the middle of the night, a door slam, people talking, you know how sound travel a long way at night in the country.
  • Use this knowledge, and knowing who is and who isn't supposed to be there, or vehicles in the wrong place, as an advantage to help keep an eye out for potential illegal activity.
  • Be vigilant and look for suspicious persons or activities in your area. 
  • Keep an eye out for any suspicious activity.
  • This may be a lot harder to do if you live away from your farm. 
  • If you do not live on your ranch or farm, it is suggested you get to know your neighbors and enlist their help in reporting when unknown and/or suspicious people venture on your property.
  • Being a good neighbor means looking out for your neighbor.  
  • A threat to his property and safety is a threat to yours as well.
  • If you are on good terms with your neighbors, as we all should be, then have neighbors help you watch over your farm for you.
  • Let them know or ask them about potentially suspicious activity, such as if they have noticed any strange vehicles slowing down or stopping to look at your animals or farm while you are away, or if they've noticed any strange activity during the night.
  • This is important because besides the activity of suspicious people, we should also be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles in case a strange vehicle is actually a potential rustler casing your livestock and security measures.
  • Many people who live out in the rural areas know the regular traffic that goes by there homes every day. 
  • Suspicions are always aroused if someone is driving more slowly than they should, if they stop by the side of the road for some reason, or suddenly slow down then after a few seconds, then take off again.
  • Signs of suspicious activity should also be accounted for. 
  • If you can, take down a license number. After all, we never can know if it will be used later.
  • Many of us who live in rural areas don't really think twice about dropping in on a friend, and even though that's the case we can all familiarize our self with who is supposed to be around a neighbor's property and who just does not belong there.
  • When gone, even if just overnight, I let my neighbors know when I'm leaving and how long I'll be gone.
  • I also let them know if I have someone coming to feed for me, his name, his description, and what kind of car or truck to he drives and to expect. 
  • I also let them know if I have a House Sitter staying at my place while I'm away.
  • I have even given my neighbor the phone number of where I'll be staying in case of emergency. 
  • Neighbors working together by looking after each other is a great defense against theft, burglary, and vandalism.

7) House Sitters

  • A ranch dog might be useful in discouraging strangers, lights on are also known to keep people away, but nothing can replace the presence of someone there to watch your property while you are gone.
  • In that case, consider enlisting a House Sitter or Ranch Sitter if you are going to be away.
  • If this is not possible let a family member stay at your home while you are gone, but either way let your trusted neighbors know about your absence.

8) Do Not Hesitate To Inform Others 

  • While there are many ways to increase security of your property and family, joining a local/rural watch is one.
  • There are organizations out there which are set-up as a network to get the information of livestock thefts to others in your area.
  • This can give you the benefits of group protection activities, as well as being a source of useful information about keeping your cattle safe.
  • If such a group doesn't exist in your area, consider starting one with the support of other livestock owners.

9) Notify The Sheriff Quickly

  • It is vital that we respond as quick as possible to stop rustlers.
  • It is important to inform the Sheriff’s department if you see any suspicious activity around your home or that of your neighbors.
  • It is important that we do not hesitate when it comes to asking for a Deputy to check the area for any suspicious vehicles and or persons.
  • Reporting immediately if you find your animals have been stolen,  making sure that they have actually been stolen, will get law enforcement to move on the problem.
  • By reporting your theft, you keep the police or sheriff informed of such activity in your area.
  • This is of particular importance if you notice activity within a couple days, especially during the night or even during the day.
  • It is important in another way that is probably unknown to us, in that our report may be the link to other crimes in our area and may be important in finding the rustlers.
  • The sooner that the trail can be followed, the better.
  • Sometimes they will dispatch and officer to take a drive down to that particular area of concern to see what's going on or to even give warning to potential thieves that the police haven't forgotten about that particular corner of the country.
  • Today, many Sheriff departments won't send out a Deputy and instead will advise you to fill out a police report on-line as most departments these days are computerized. If that the case, do so.
  • After that, contact your insurer as well to see what is expected of you by way of more information when you file a claim.
  • Since most of the ranchers in the United States are small and financially dependent on the sale of the stock they have, it is hoped that their herds are insured.
  • If you do need to seek compensation, then you will want to make sure you have done everything to assure this includes submitting a police report.

10) Buy A Gun

  • If you believe it is important for the safety of your property and your family, you may want to consider buying a gun for your safety.
  • Most producers already own a handgun or a rifle, but if you haven't already it may be worthwhile.
  • Thieves really do not like it when an owner of that farm from where they are planning or attempting to steal from has a gun that that owner knows how to use it.
  • You do not need to use the gun to cause injury or worse. Although, it certainly will help you hold criminals in place on the ground until the police can arrive.
  • For me, I have first hand experience when it comes to firing warning shots over the heads of potential thieves to let them know that I was around, armed, and did not appreciate them trying to take what didn't belong to them.
  • One such incident resulted in the thieves running away so fast that they left their truck behind. The police caught up with them later with help from the information in the truck's glove compartment.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry to say this, cowboys but rustling is still common. There used to be a time where you could grab a rope and find the nearest tree and hang the rustler. Nowadays, you have to get the lawyers involved and act like a total Frontier Karen. You say things like, "John Doe knew my cattle were at the west pasture so he took them!" or "John Doe knew I could move my cattle across the river so he took advantage of that!" Or the classic line, "John Doe knew I wouldn't sell my string of horses so he stole them!" Well I think this John Doe is a rustler. And if he's married to a Jane Doe, or if his mother is a Jane Doe, chances are she's gonna know that too. There's plenty a cowboy who will go full blown Yellowstone mode and try their best to protect their herd. But here's my opinion. If you catch them in the act, you'll have enough proof that they were stealing your cattle all along. That's the great thing about being a cowboy. And one more thing. If you're the rustler who's been stealing cattle, stop. You won't get away with it and you WILL be prosecuted. That is, if the boys at the bunkhouse don't shoot ya first. Haha. Happy Trails.


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