THEFT & LAW Law Enforcement Tips
Proper Pen Placement to Prevent Theft
One of the reasons cattle theft is still so common is the high rate of return criminals can get for their ill-gotten goods. Whereas stolen household items such as electronics or tools would be sold for a fraction of their worth, cattle will still bring full market price anywhere in the state. One trip to the sale barn with a couple of calves could bring one thief quite a windfall for a day’s work if they’re willing to endure the attention of your local law enforcement, market inspectors and TSCRA special rangers.
TSCRA’s special rangers offer a few things that ranchers can do to make their property less appealing to thieves, especially when it comes to pen and corral placement.
Opportunity makes a thief
Many incidences of theft are simply a crime of opportunity. Gathering calves and leaving them in a roadside pen to load in the morning may seem like a good idea this evening, but it won’t seem that great when you roll up at daybreak and they’re gone. Convenient for you will also be convenient for thieves.
Don’t hold cattle in easily visible pens — especially near roadways — to work or load later, even overnight. If possible, build pens and chutes out of sight of the public eye. Moving a permanent pen out of sight may be well worth the money when compared to losing an entire season’s calf crop.
A rural area may have less traffic, neighbors and noise, but it can also give thieves a good opportunity to make off with your property without anyone seeing them. You don’t know who has been watching you and waiting for the right time. It’s much harder for thieves to steal what they don’t know about or can’t see.
Don’t make it easy
Older pens that are near roadways and cannot be moved shouldn’t be used to hold cattle for long periods. It may be simple to leave weanling calves in the loading pen for a few days, but they would be safer in another pasture or temporary pen that is out of sight. If they must remain in the pen, secure gates with heavy chains and locks that aren’t easily cut. It may not completely deter all thieves, but it could be enough of a hassle for them to skip your place.
In addition, if you park your stock trailer in or near the pens, you’re not only possibly serving your calves up to thieves, you could be putting them on a gooseneck platter.
“I wouldn’t do it,” says TSCRA Special Ranger Kenny Murchison, District 20 in South Central Texas. “It’s too tempting for a crook, especially if you’re making it easier on them by leaving feed or a trailer nearby. All they would have to do is load up and drive off.
They will be gone in just a few minutes. You’d be surprised how many thieves will not only steal someone’s cattle, they’ll use the victim’s trailer to haul them off,” says Murchison.
Murchison also recommends keeping an inventory of all equipment and record the makes, models and vehicle identification numbers (VIN). If the equipment does not have a VIN or serial number, stamp your driver’s license number on it.
“Since most folks have cell phones with a camera, it’s not a bad idea to take a few pictures, as well,” he said.
Murchison says having this information can make their investigation easier and possibly shorten recovery time, increasing the chances of getting your cattle and equipment back.
“My advice is to not leave your trailer where your cattle are penned,” he said. “If you do, put a trailer hitch lock on the trailer and remove the handle to the jack. Or if you have a tractor or another vehicle, park it in front of the trailer.”
Keep an eye out
According to TSCRA Special Ranger Mike Barr, Dist. 26 in the Central Texas Hill Country, a good way to keep an eye on things if you can’t be around is a game camera.
“Game cameras are a great tool to not only catch the game on your ranch but to also help us in capturing a vehicle on your ranch that could be stealing your cattle or burglarizing your barns,” Barr says. “Most game cameras are weatherproof and capture the date, time of day or night. That helps a lot in an investigation.”
Barr adds, “Prosecuting attorneys like to see their crook in a picture on your property, where they don’t belong.”
Cameras are available at outdoor supply stores and online and offer a wide range of options, including live monitoring via the Internet or smart phone app.
As always, TSCRA’s special rangers would like to remind folks to brand their cattle. Nothing helps deter thieves like a brand and a blue TSCRA gate sign. Branding cattle can also help special rangers in an investigation and increases the possibility that stolen cattle can be positively identified and returned.
It could pay to be a little bit paranoid when it comes to preventing theft. Take a critical eye to your pens and equipment and ask if you are leaving yourself open to a thief looking for a quick payday. Do what you can to make your property less appealing and pay attention to any suspicious activity or people in the area. Then lock it up, keep it out of sight and call your TSCRA special ranger if you have questions. ❚
“Proper Pen Placement” is from the September 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.