Cattle losses costing SLV ranchers

LA JARA — In 1867, nine years before Colorado became a state, ranchers formed the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) — the nation’s first cattlemen’s association.

Brand inspectors have been on the job longer than Colorado has been a state.

Thursday night, some 100 cattle producers, law enforcement officers, along with state and federal agency representatives gathered in the Centauri High School band room to face some hard facts — cattle are disappearing and that amounts to many thousands of dollars in losses to the local economy, not to mention the bottom line of cattlemen — and women.

San Luis Valley Cattlemen’s Association officer Robert Middlemist moderated the meeting, and numerous audience members talked about their concerns and issue.

The protocol for reporting lost and stolen livestock was rewritten in 2012 to make finding lost cattle and calves easier.

Still, the losses can be huge — and costly.

A case in point was reported to the state commission last October — a herd of 49 calves that went missing from a ranch in Creede and that loss was reported to the State Livestock Commission. Within the same month, 16 black cows and calves went missing three miles west of Moffat on County Road T.

Then a total of 114 head of cattle went missing in Colorado, and those were the ones that were officially reported.

Large losses were reported in December 2017, including a herd of 24 from Del Norte, 16 near the Bear Creek and Mosca Forest Allotment from the Beebe Ranch and 19 from the Twin Gates Corral in Capulin, located west of La Jara. The total dollar loss during the past year was estimated at $288,060 — and that’s just for the animals reported.

One audience member asked, “What’s going to happen? What can be done?”

Colorado Brand Commissioner Chris Whitney said brand inspectors would be patrolling more and working with their counterparts in New Mexico.

He said the brand commission has a good working relationship with the Colorado State Patrol, county sheriffs, Division of Wildlife officers, forest service officers and others in law enforcement.

The brand office disseminates a monthly report of missing or stolen cattle to Brand Inspection Division personnel, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Livestock Association, county clerks, county sheriffs, the International Livestock Identification Association, the Livestock Marketing Association and the brand board, along with other cooperating agencies.

“When you tell us, it involves everybody — neighboring states get it and everybody’s eyes are opened,” Whitney said.

In cases of real or suspected theft, the reports are disseminated immediately by email.

When theft is not suspected, the information will be emailed out if the loss is discovered within 30 days — cattle being pastured some distance from the home ranch may not be discovered missing right away.

Trailers that seem unusual will be stopped and checked out and, while this may seem heavy handed, it can save money in the long run.

Whitney said losses need to be reported right away, due to the fact that, “as time goes by, the harder it is to do something about it.”

If it isn’t reported right away, the lost animal may end up on someone’s dinner table, he said.

According to Whitney, some losses won’t be reported because “it’s embarrassing. You don’t want your neighbor to know you can’t find your cattle.”

That neighbor has the same concerns, he said.

If a producer has a registered brand, he or she knows who the responsible brand inspector is and can make a quick phone call.

Producers should contact their brand inspectors immediately upon determining that livestock is missing or stolen and provide the information necessary to complete and file a report.

“The brand inspectors are happy to take reports and find the animals,” Whitney said.

Deterrence is part of the issue, the risk of getting caught. Important agencies that have a piece of the puzzle get together and work on it.

Last year and the year before, Whitney said, a lot more patrolling was done and the word got out, so the 2017 numbers were less.

Brand inspectors are not required to do road stops but will step it up considerably, and the State Patrol courses include livestock law. “They’ve been working with us a long time,” Whitney said.

There is a closer working relationship with neighboring New Mexico. Gary Mora of the New Mexico Livestock Board told the group his state has concerns, as well. “We would like to work more closely with Colorado and Colorado go more into New Mexico.

“A lot of cattle that graze in New Mexico are from Colorado,” Mora said. “When we find them, we report them to the individual who owns them.”

That individual is then expected to report the find to the local brand inspector.

In New Mexico, a peace officer has probable cause to pull over a suspicious livestock trailer or hauler.

This includes within the national forest, since U.S. Forest Service officers are few and far between.

“If you see anything suspicious as far as New Mexico is concerned, we want to know about it right now,” Baca said.

One of the most important factors in determining the legitimacy of a load of cattle is their brand. Keeping a brand card in the glove compartment of a vehicle is invaluable.

Whitney said brands have been regulated since 1903 and there is a good reason for it.

“For Colorado livestock, the brand is the animal’s return address.”

The same is true of New Mexico and Baca said his agency is aware of Colorado brands.

While cattle producers and government agencies are constantly on high alert about losses and suspicious vehicles, residents can be of invaluable help, the audience was told.

Through Operation Livestock Thief, citizens may anonymously call 1-800-332-4155 to report incidents of livestock theft or destruction.

The State Brand Commissioner and respective law enforcement agencies will investigate and if the information results in an arrest, informants may collect a reward of up to $2,500. Informants concerned about anonymity may call their local brand inspector or the state brand commissioner’s office directly and still qualify for a reward.

Caption: New Mexico Livestock Board representative Gary Mora, left, and Colorado Brand Commissioner Chris Whitney listen to remarks from a large crowd in the Centauri band room Thursday evening. Photo by Sylvia Lobato.