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

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go 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.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

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