News / USA

    Cattle Rustling on the Rise in the American West

    Modern-day thieves use trucks, not horses, to steal livestock

    The white 'Y' with two lines under it shows that this cow came from rancher Gil Nitsch's herd.
    The white 'Y' with two lines under it shows that this cow came from rancher Gil Nitsch's herd.


    Jim Kent

    The 21st century has brought changes to all parts of the country.

    In even the most remote corners of rural America, everything from high-speed internet to digital billboards are connecting folks in small towns with a way of life that's common in urban settings.

    But one thing hasn't changed in many states where people still make a living raising cattle: rustlers stealing cattle. In fact, officials say, it's getting worse.

    Ranchers take advantage of the wide open spaces of the west to give their cattle room to graze but that also makes things easier for thieves.
    Ranchers take advantage of the wide open spaces of the west to give their cattle room to graze but that also makes things easier for thieves.

    You can't get too close to Gil Nitsch's ranch house just outside Chadron, Nebraska, without one of his dogs "greeting" you.

    But like many ranchers in the mostly-rural states of the American West, Nitsch has most of his cattle herd grazing on land far from his home, where there are no watchdogs.

    "So, it's pretty difficult, really, to know what's going on at some of these parcels that you have cattle," he says. "Twice a year, you really have a good count, you know, when you calve, and then when you sell."

    Many reasons why cattle go missing

    When ranchers do their twice-a-year counts, the numbers don't always add up as they should. Some of the missing cattle have been hit by lightning or killed by predators. Others wander across property lines and mingle with neighbors' herds while a few just disappear, usually after heavy snowstorms.

    But others - quite a few others - are stolen, including nearly a dozen from Gil Nitsch's herd.

    The rancher recalls a phone call from Shawn Harvey, an investigator with the Nebraska Brand Commission. "And he asked me, 'Are you short any cattle?' I says, 'Not to my knowledge.' And then he says, 'Would you believe we've got 10 of your cows at Wahoo, Nebraska?'"

    Wahoo is nearly 650 kilometers to the east of Nitsch's ranch - even further than that from his cattle herd. On a tip, a state agriculture official had checked on 10 cows that had been purchased by a sale barn there. The investigator found a "Y double bar" brand on the cattle. The stylized "Y" with two lines under it shows the animals were from Nitsch's herd.

    Investigator Shawn Harvey says cattle rustling is fairly common. "Obviously, with time, it's evolved into a much higher-tech business than what it was back in the Old West," he says. "Back then, they did it horseback and drove the cattle. And nowadays, it's pretty easy for them to get wheels underneath the cattle [put them on a truck] and get them out to where they can sell them somewhere where there is no inspection."

    To brand or not to brand

    Brand inspections are where the system breaks down.

    Harvey explains that each county has its own rules. Counties in the western two-thirds of Nebraska require all cattle to branded, while those in the east don't.

    "There is no requirement in the no brand area. The only thing that's ever required, when you sell something in the no-brand area, you are to give a bill of sale. So, basically, you can take a piece of paper, write out that 'I, John Doe sold Jane Doe 10 head of cattle', you date it, you sign it. That's all that's required."

    Ranchers bring their cattle and other livestock to auction houses for sale to the highest bidder.
    Ranchers bring their cattle and other livestock to auction houses for sale to the highest bidder.

    Cattle are bought and sold every Tuesday at the Livestock Auction Market in Gordon, Nebraska. It's on the west side of the state, so the cattle have to be branded.

    Glen Andrews has been ranching in the area for 35 years and says the requirement just makes sense. "I think the whole state should be under branding rule because it's a form of I.D. and it's your personal signature on your cattle. I think it would help immensely to figure this out when something like cattle rustling happens."

    Officials and ranchers from eastern Nebraska say they don't brand because they view the process as an inconvenience - even though their cattle operations are typically much smaller than those in the western part of the state.

    Investigator Shawn Harvey says since neighboring Iowa and Kansas, as well as Oklahoma, Missouri and most eastern states don't require branding, ranchers in eastern Nebraska feel that there is little point to branding their cattle.

    The good news for Gil Nitsch is that eight of his 10 rustled cows were returned, and the man who stole them was caught.

    Cattle rustling was a hanging offense in the 19th century. These days, 21st century rustlers simply face up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    This forum has been closed.
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    NATO to Target Migrant Smugglersi
    Jeff Custer
    February 11, 2016 4:35 PM
    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.