By John Blenker
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office
Cattle rustling -- raiding or stealing animals from their home pastures -- is an old, but still serious crime that hurts ranchers financially.
Unfortunately, rustling is becoming a growing problem in California thanks to the rising market value of beef and other livestock.
Fortunately, there are a number of modern day tactics developed by your Sonoma County Sheriff’s Rural Crime Task Force team members with special training in livestock theft deterrence and identification methods that can help you keep your valuable herd safer from these opportunistic criminals.
The total effort revolves around “hardening the target.” This means the obvious: Making it harder for you to become a victim. It is important that all ranchers in Sonoma County take a stand against rustling by turning what once was a simple, easily accomplished crime into one that is high risk for the perpetrators.
I have spoken with many ranchers, conducted some research and identified the following steps that you might consider to protect your animals:
- Keep and maintain good records and documents for the livestock you own. Your Rural Crime Task Force Deputies have been trained in brand inspection and tag identification. We check animals if they are being transported on Sonoma County roads and pay special attention to transport and ownership documentation. This documentation may play an important role in court if we later prosecute rustlers. Consider keeping both hard copies and computer generated records so that you have duplicates.
- Brand your livestock and/or secure ear tags. Livestock that are not tagged or branded are an easier target for rustlers. Brands can be switched or altered, depending on the type of brand your farm or ranch has. Photographs of your livestock would be a good thing to keep in your computer files along with other documentation.
- Check your livestock regularly. Count and make sure they’re all there. This ensures that none have been stolen and also helps you monitor their health.
- Locate loading facilities near your residence and equip gates with heavy-duty locks and or chains. Thieves are less apt to target your ranch if the loading facilities are near an occupied home. Remote area locations may be inviting to rustlers if they know that no one will see or hear them. As with any rural crime, limited access points allow easier detection by residents, neighbors, or ranch managers. Check locks and chains regularly to make sure they haven’t been tampered.
- Park your vehicles, trailers and other mobile equipment in secure areas. Keep keys to these vehicles inside your residence. Your trailers should have proper vehicle identification number, license plates and your Owner Applied number on them. In North County we have had numerous vehicle thefts reported over the past several months. In all of them the keys were located inside the vehicle when it was stolen. If your employees drive your ranch vehicles make sure that they adhere to this policy.
- Be vigilant and look for suspicious persons or activities in your area. If you do not live on your ranch, we suggest you get to know your neighbors and enlist their help in reporting when unknown and/or suspicious people venture on your property. A ranch dog might also be useful in discouraging strangers. Let your Rural Crime Task Force Deputies know about incidents and submit a “trespass action request” form to keep on file with the Sheriff’s Department. This form subsequently gives Deputies the authority to arrest persons for trespassing in your absence. I have spoken to many farmers and most of them know who is familiar and who is not. Be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles and people; they might be rustlers casing your livestock.
- Consider engaging a house or ranch sitter if you are going to be away. If this is not possible let a trusted neighbor or family member know about your absence.
- Partner with your Rural Crime Task Force in looking for leads that might deter and identify rustlers in our county.
- Inform the Sheriff’s department if you see any suspicious activity. Don’t hesitate to ask for a Deputy to check the area for any suspicious vehicles and or persons.
- Report immediately if you find your animals have been stolen. Make sure that they have actually been stolen and not just at large.
Working together, rural crime deputies and ranchers can better protect valuable animals and make a real dent in rustling. I urge you to call one of us for suggestions specifically tailored to your own property. By “partnering up” and taking action now, we can stop animal losses before they happen.