Now You See Them, Now You Don’t
Running Down Livestock Thieves

By Ingrid Edisen

We all fear it—the loss of our precious horses to thieves. According to an article on a cattle rustler that ran in the May ‘06 issue of Texas Monthly, the Texas Southwest Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) receives 1,100 to 1,700 calls about such possible livestock abductions a year. Recently I spoke with Larry Gray, the Director of Law Enforcement and Livestock Identification for the TSCRA. He heads the organization’s division that apprehends livestock thieves in Texas and Oklahoma. What follows are his answers to my questions.

How long has your organization been involved in the apprehension of cattle/horse thieves?
The Texas Southwest Cattle Raisers Association (T.S.C.R.A.) was established in 1877 in Graham, Texas by Northwest Texas cattleman to combat cattle theft.

How long has your organization been involved in the apprehension of cattle/horse thieves?
How does that system work? (The fellow I spoke to at the TX Rangers said you all were deputized, he believed. So, how does that happen?)

Since about 1890 we have been commissioned as Special Texas Ranger. In the early days these were appointments made by the Governor. Now Texas D.P.S. holds our commissions as Special Rangers. Our inspectors have statewide jurisdiction and full arrest, search & seizure authority like any other state officer. We also are required to meet all state mandated training requirements as set forth by Texas Commission On Law Enforcement Officers Standards & Education.

Our inspectors authority is defined in art.# 2.125 of the Texas Criminal Code of Procedure under the definition of Peace Officers. We are not Texas Rangers and shouldn't be considered or referred to as such, we do work closely with the Rangers from time to time.

What do you do when you are first contacted about a crime of this nature?
When notified of an offense if at all possible we like to respond to the scene, since our inspectors cover such large areas sometime this not possible and the Sheriff's office is the first officers on the scene. Whenever possible we do like to respond to scene as soon as possible to collect any possible evidence that may have been left at crime scene. In the case of a cattle theft we immediately notify our market inspectors which or stationed at all the cattle auctions in the state to be on the look out for the stolen cattle. In the case of horse theft we immediately notify our inspectors stationed at the two horse processing plants in the state.. The rest is pretty much like conducting any other type of finvestigations, interviewing possible witnesses, suspects and wearing out a lot of boot leather. In the past few years we have used D.N.A. testing to make positive identification of ownership in livestock cases.

What kind of prices do cattle/horses command?
Cattle prices have been @ a record high a mid-age cow is worth from $1000 to $1500 depending on quality. Calves depending on size or worth from a $1.00 up to $1.50 per pound. Horses can be worth as little as $300 for a common horse up to $100,000 for horses used in competitions such as racing, roping or cutting horse events.

How many of your agents are assigned to this division?
We currently have a total of 29 inspectors assigned in Texas & Oklahoma. Our Oklahoma inspectors are commissioned by the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation as Special Rangers.

What are some of the ways the thieves transport the stolen animals?
Most usually the livestock thieves preferred mode of transportation is a gooseneck livestock trailer pulled by a 3/4 or one-ton pickup truck.

Do these types of crimes tend to happen at night or daytime?
Most cattle thefts occur at night or very early morning hours.

What is the penalty for such a crime?
The theft of ten head or less of cattle or horses is a state jail felony. For more than ten head, it’s a third degree felony If the value of the livestock is over $100,000 the penalty may rise to a second degree felony.

Do you have any suggestions on ways to beef up security for livestock owners?
Hot Iron Branding is still the best means of identification for cattle, we recommend freeze branding for horses, a brand can be easily read, can't be removed and can be seen from a distance. Most cattle/horse thieves will pass up branded cattle and steal unbranded ones. We recommend that producers count their cattle on a regular basis, keep gates locked, don't feed in pens or build new pens close to the roadway, don't procrastinate in regards to reporting cattle/horses stolen thinking that they just might be out on a neighbor. We suggest that horse owners never leave halters on their horses while in the pasture or tied to a trailer un-attended at an equestrian event. We have had numerous horses stolen under these circumstances. Horse owners should pay particular attention to strangers who show an unusual amount of interest in their horse. Thieves like to steal from absentee owners due to the fact there is less likely a chance that he will drive up on them, it also gives them a head start knowing it might be a few days before the cattle/horses are even reported stolen. We encourage livestock owners to be noisy neighbors and copy the license number down on strange vehicles that may be pulling a trailer in their areas.

Who tends to do this sort of crime?
Livestock thieves are almost always folks who have worked within the industry, they know how to handle livestock and know where to dispose of them. We have caught very few novice cattle/horse thieves.

Is it possible to transport stolen livestock to foreign countries (Mexico? France? Canada? Europe?)
It's extremely hard to transport stolen livestock to other countries due to animal health regulations. Cattle and horses going either direction are usually tested or quarantined for a period of time before being allowed to go out of country. In some instances they have been smuggled into Mexico, this doesn't happen much anymore due to beefed up Homeland Security measures.

What does recourse does a victim have? (insurance?)
Commercial cattle and horses are usually not insured. Some registered cattle and horses are insured by specialty insurance companies. It's usually not feasible for your everyday producer.

Mr. Gray can be reached at 1-800-242-7820 or you can visit the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers web site at for membership information.

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