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.

Multimedia

Audio
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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More