Skip to Content

The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Modern day cattle rustling still a concern

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – Cattle rustling is on the rise in Texas. And although Wyoming has a different scale and population, economies between the states are similar, often rising and falling at the same time.

“With the price of beef on the hoof and the price of beef in the case, the opportunity and motivation is there for an increase in theft,” noted Wyoming Livestock Board Director Steve True at the Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW) annual convention, held Nov. 7-8 in Casper.

The Wyoming Livestock Board has compiled a list of items for producers to consider to deter theft on their operations, recommending branding first and foremost.

“We do brand inspecting and brand recording, so we have a vested interest in that, but it is also the best form of identification. Tags can be cut out, and no-brands are not safe,” True said.

He added, “Keep accurate counts and records of cattle as much as possible, and if there are some uncommon looking animals, take a picture of them with the bunch. That’s a quick identification tool at a sale barn that might not know the brand.”

Fences and gates

Next, True recommended checking and maintaining fences and possibly adding locks to gates.

“I understand that it’s an inconvenience to add locks. However there are a couple of reasons to lock gates. One is prevention,” True stated. “The second part is evidence.”

An unlocked gate is quick and easy for a rustler, especially if the gate is not visible from a house or traveled road. If thieves do go to the trouble of cutting locks or chains, law enforcement can follow up with the scene.

“We can have tests done. We can get fingerprints, and we’ve done DNA tests in some calf cases. There is some science available to us,” True explained.

He also noted, “If there is a scene or area, try not to disturb it. Don’t run cattle over it, and don’t drive over it to go feed. Give the professionals a chance to look at it.”

Varied routines

True also encouraged producers to develop unpredictable patterns in their routines. Checking the same pastures at the same time every week leaves an open window for rustlers who know they have a few days when no one will be out to check on the livestock.

“Here’s another little tip. We all like to visit. It’s human nature, but don’t broadcast plans. If we say we’re shipping the day after tomorrow and then going on vacation, word gets around about what’s going on,” commented True.

Also, when producers are shipping cattle, they should be aware of how their shipping pens are set up in relationship to roads and line-of-sight from the house or neighbor’s.

“If there’s a trap where we like to gather the night before, let the local sheriff or one of the Livestock Board investigators know, particularly if it’s the night before a sale or a full moon,” he suggested.

Law enforcement can be sent past the pens as part of their regular patrol for the night, deterring rustlers and keeping an eye on the pens and cattle.

Additional tools

“Here’s an old one that comes out of the annals of livestock theft – own a dog,” True continued.

Oftentimes, dogs are the first ones to realize that something isn’t right.

True further suggested posting signs stating that the area is under surveillance. He also encouraged producers to let the Livestock Board know about areas under surveillance, so investigators can be aware of possible at-risk areas.

“We can help with some game cameras. We don’t have any in stock, but we can help get that put together,” he said.

Energy development sites also have surveillance and security, so getting to know local companies may be a way to get some extra monitoring on an operation.

“Think like a thief. Look around the place, identify weaknesses and try to remedy them to prevent rustling,” True remarked.


In Texas, a lot of cattle theft is motivated by cash flow, as thieves find it less risky to steal livestock than to break into homes.

“Some of the best rustlers down there are old, broken-down cowboys that are now hooked on drugs. Those guys are owned by the drug cartels and gangs,” commented True.

The old cowboys are handy, and many of them still do day work, so they know where to go and how to run 20 head out of a corner gate.

“They get in and out in a hurry,” True explained.

The Wyoming Livestock Board works with local law enforcement, Colorado sheriff departments and the Texas Rangers, among others, to combat modern day cattle rustling.

Getting assistance

“A lot of people think about smoke, guns blazing, horses flying and a dust cloud going. There might still be a dust cloud, and there might still be guns blazing, but there’s probably going to be an aluminum gooseneck in the dead of night with a dually truck and a Border collie,” True said.

If producer’s see cattle thefts in an area, it is likely that the rustlers are organized and armed.

“They understand it’s a felony, and in most cases they are going to be pretty desperate. I’m an old rancher, too, but if anyone sees something going on, be careful. Keep an eye on them and let the guys who are equipped to handle these situations come take care of it,” stated True.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at

Back to top