In February, an 11-year-old pregnant bay quarter horse was reported missing in the North Platte area. That case is ongoing, according to Lincoln County Chief Sheriff Deputy Roland Kramer.
“There’s nothing unusual” about Lincoln County when it comes to livestock disappearing, said David Horton, interim director of the Nebraska Brand Committee, based in Alliance. Although there are larger ongoing cases elsewhere in the state, livestock ownership problems can occur anywhere, and people should be aware, and always on guard, he said.
In addition to about 50 full-time and 45 part-time brand inspectors, the brand committee has three criminal investigators. Kramer said.
“We’ve always had a good (working) relationship” with the investigators, he said.
C.J. Fell, who is the investigator for the area of the state including Lincoln County, said he was contacted by the Fillmore County sheriff on March 25 about an abuse and neglect situation.
“It’s turned into a big case,” now involving the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Nebraska State Patrol and special agents from U.S. Internal Revenue Service, he said. It revolves around a feedlot operated by Aaron Ogren of Exete,r who has been arrested and charged with animal cruelty, theft and prohibited sale of livestock. Ogren was supposed to be feeding and caring for his customers’ cattle.
Investigators found about 200 dead animals at Ogren’s facility. About another 260 animals were seized and their owners identified.
They have been provided veterinary care, and relocated for their ongoing maintenance, Fell said.
Lately, there have been more neglect and abuse cases than usual, Horton said, including some that involve well-meaning individuals.
“We’ve had cases when people want to do animal rescue,” then find out they cannot afford to take care of the animals, “then things get out of hand,” he said.
Strays are another issue, Fell said, like if a calf strays away and someone finds it and decides to keep it and take care of it.
“That is not legal,” he said.
Strays must be reported within seven days to the local law enforcement agency or a brand inspector.
This year, “the weather hasn’t helped anything,” in separating livestock from their owners, Horton said. After the bomb cyclone, a question in eastern Nebraska was, “What do we do with all these critters that are on the islands?” The 30 days following the extreme weather kept law enforcement personnel “really humping.”
“Rustling happens a lot,” too, “but we don’t see it the way the Westerns portray it,” Fell said.
For example, instead of cowboys rounding up cattle on horseback, “We’ve had truck drivers go to sale barns and load up cattle that don’t belong to them.”
Brand inspection is important to preventing and solving crimes. Brand inspectors serve roughly the western two-thirds of the state, Horton said, where inspection is mandatory whenever cattle ownership is transferred. The brand committee must approve and record livestock brands.
Other counties can also request brand inspection.
“If they didn’t have an inspection record, you don’t have something to go on,” when cattle disappear, Horton said.
Recovering stolen livestock can be difficult, though. Traveling by truck on the highway, “they can be far out of our jurisdiction before we even know there’s a problem,” Fell said. To combat the problem, investigators in different states work together. Recently an investigator from North Dakota “came down to my area,” working on a case that originated in his state. The suspect had also been charged with violating brand law in Montana, Fell said.
Other situations involve people taking advantage of trusting ranchers.
“Times are tougher out there than people think,” Horton said. “People get overwhelmed” and under a lot of stress. Under those conditions it may be easier to lose track of cattle, and to fail to keep proper records. Difficult times can also increase incentives for people to commit crimes, including livestock theft, he said.
A factor in some cases can be aging of the population. Older cattle producers, in particular, may “lose track of what’s going on,” Horton said.
Livestock leases are common. A person may lease cows to someone else in exchange for a percentage of the calf crop, or a landowner may lease pasture to a cattle producer.
However, “theft is one of the biggest issues” when it comes to cattle leases, Horton said. For example, the person in possession of the cattle may claim death loss fraudulently or put his own brand on calves that are not his.
Sometimes it becomes a civil case, and “we have to sift (through the situation) pretty fine” to make the determination, Horton said. Then the procedures for resolution all change.
“County attorneys are not interested in getting involved in civil cases.”