Unfortunately, not everyone who grows up on a ranch or farm abides by the law. “The typical thief is always someone with a background in agriculture,” Gray says. “They know how to handle cattle and market them.

“I’ve done this over 30 years and there’s only one cattle thief I can think of who didn't have background in the cattle industry. I remember it because we found Merit cigarette butts and the guy had Merits in his pocket.”

The one thing that often turns rustlers away is a cattle brand. “Branding is still the most effective way to identify cattle and detour theft,” Gray says, noting that ear tag IDs are easily ripped out by thieves, but a brand is permanent. “A lot of thieves pass on branded cattle. Some steal cattle at night, discover they’re branded at daylight, and then dump them. They know branded cattle will likely be identified at the sale barn.”

Documentation is also critical when cattle are placed on leased wheat pasture or under the care of someone else. “We’ve seen cattle sold by the caretaker,” Gray says. “There was no documentation to identify the rightful owner. Producers need to have a written contract stating that no cattle can be sold under any circumstances.”

Another example of rustling involves “secured creditor cases,” Gray adds. “A person goes to a bank and borrows money off cattle and doesn’t pay it back. Those types of cases can be very time consuming due to the paper trail involved.”

Weather disasters also cause problems with cattle identification. As many as 20,000 cattle were misplaced from pastures as a result of Hurricane Ike in 2008. TSCRA worked in cooperation with Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Texas Animal Health Commission and Texas Department of Agriculture to help locate and return cattle to their owners.

You can help in the arrest of cattle rustlers and other ranch property thieves by contacting a TSCRA rustler’s hot line. TSCRA offers a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and/or grand jury indictment of thieves. Anonymity is guaranteed. To provide information, call 888-830-2333.

Your tip won’t get a rustler strung up on the courthouse lawn. But it may help put him behind bars – where he belongs.


Also of interest:

Jan. 14 Cattle Trails Cow-Calf Conference in Wichita Falls

Value-added program improves cattle sales price

Cattle producers young and old should plan accordingly for drought