Cattle rustling can conjure up different thoughts depending on who you are. Some imagine a scene from an old western where bandana-wearing cowboys gather up a herd of cows and drive them to a distant and secret location. Others might think this is something from the past and doesn't happen now. Unfortunately, cattle rustling is still a serious issue.
Recently, there have been increasing reports of cattle rustling across the country. It seems that when the economy gets tough, crime rates increase. Unfortunately, ranchers are not immune to crime. In many cases, those who live in the country are targeted because criminals know there are fewer people to watch for suspicious activity.
As a farm or ranch owner, you must be observant to protect your property from those who would steal it from you. Here are a few tips to reduce the potential of becoming a victim of theft.
Permanently identify your cows. A cow that has some form of brand is not attractive to a potential thief. Make sure your brand is registered in the state or county your ranch is in and make sure that local law enforcement authorities know your brand.
Don't feed at the gate or in your pens. Don't get your cows used to being fed near the pasture gate or in the working pens. This only trains the cows to come to a place where it is easier for a criminal to catch them.
Lock your gates. Criminals are inherently lazy. If they have to work very hard, they'll move on to an easier target. Additionally, a locked gate will slow down a thief; they want to be able to move quickly into and out of an area. Don't give out combinations or keys to your locks.
Don't locate working pens near pasture entrances. I call these "thieving pens." If your cows are accustomed to coming to a horn or siren and being fed in the working pens, you have made a thief's job much easier.
Feed or check cows at different times of the day. Don't get into a set pattern that will make it easy for a crook to know when you will be around. Make sure you have an accurate head count each time you go out.
Be vigilant. If you see a suspicious vehicle on your county road that you have not seen before, take time to write down their license plate number. Or, better yet, stop and chat with the driver. A thief is less likely to steal cattle in the area if he knows people can describe him.
Cattle are not the only things that can be stolen. Other popular items are tractors, trailers, saddles, horses and farm equipment. Here are a few tips to reduce the potential for theft of these items.
Park trailers and equipment out of view from the road and take your keys.
Lock saddle compartments on trailers and tack/equipment rooms.
Photograph and brand your horses. A photo can help investigators locate your horse more quickly. Horses that are branded are easily identifiable and less likely to be stolen.
Put identifying marks such as a registered brand or driver's license number on valuable equipment and saddles. Photograph those items and the markings.
Record serial and model numbers, as well as other distinguishing characteristics of equipment. This will not prevent theft, but can make recovery easier.
Put padlocks on and lower the tongue of a trailer so that it has to be raised before connecting to it. This will slow down a thief and make it less attractive.
In general, most thieves are opportunists. If we do a few things to slow them down, make it harder on them or readily identify items of interest, they will move on down the road. You work hard for your assets; don't let them become someone else's.