Killing Cattle a Felony Under Texas Livestock Bill Awaiting Abbott’s Signature


A very good law to defend stray livestock, including bison.

NOTE: This post initially appeared on on June 2, 2017

Careless hunters or trigger-happy gunslingers who kill Texas livestock

…would no longer get a slap on the wrist under legislation awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature that would make it a felony to terminate cattle, horses or bison without the owner’s consent.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, which was founded in 1877 to combat cattle theft and lobbied for the bill, says thieves are still a big problem and ranchers are increasingly finding more dead livestock.

The legislation would make it a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine per head to kill ranch animals — the same penalty as for livestock rustling. It was previously a misdemeanor.

“Either way, it has the same effect on the owner,” said Sonny Seewald, a special ranger who supervises a 52-county area that includes much of South-Central Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. “Whether the animal is stolen or killed, the rancher loses the value on the animal and its potential offspring.”

Sponsored by state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, and state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, the bill passed the Legislature May 26 and was sent to Abbott on Tuesday.

The cattle group’s special rangers have full peace officer status in their jurisdictions in Texas and Oklahoma but are funded by the association’s approximately 17,500 members. And the rangers, who are on call with their unmarked vehicles 24/7, have been as busy as ever. In the past decade, they’ve helped recover or account for more than 37,000 head of cattle and other property valued at more than $42 million.

While most owners of larger ranches brand their cattle so thieves can be caught at the auction barn, many smaller cattle operations don’t bother.

“It’s good money,” Seewald said. Rustlers “get the same price for cattle as the owner does. It’s not like it’s a stolen radio out of a truck and they get $10 for it. They get full price.”

While North Texas, East Texas and southern Oklahoma are bearing the brunt of the thefts, the problem is all over cattle country. Seewald attributes some of the thefts to the end of the recent oil and gas boom as well as the opioid crisis now plaguing rural America.

“Since the oil fields went down, there’s a lot of unemployed people, and they’re out to make a dollar somewhere,” he said. “There’s a lot of times their theft is to support their dope habit.”

While it’s less common to wake up to animals lying dead as opposed to missing, more and more ranchers say the problem is growing. In 2016, special rangers investigated 20 cases involving 37 dead cattle. It’s likely more cases went unreported.

While circumstances vary, the livestock are often killed by nighttime hunters who think they’re aiming at a deer or wild hog or by local youths or others who may be drunk and up to no good.

In February, Seewald was called to San Diego, about 25 miles northwest of Kingsville, to look into a missing calf. It didn’t take long in the small town to track down four suspects — reputed gang members who reportedly were out drinking beer and thought it’d be fun to kill and cook up a goat.

They couldn’t find a goat, so they instead killed a calf spotted behind a rancher’s fence, stole it and are now facing felony cattle theft charges, Seewald said. The owner at least got back the meat and the hide.

“They were just going to have it themselves,” Seewald said. “A little barbecue in the back.”

Ranching, wildlife management, finance, oil & gas, real estate development and management.

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