Sheep reported missing in S.D. | TSLN.com

Sheep reported missing in S.D.

Andrea Cook
for Rapid City Journal

Worth about $200 per head, an 80 pound spring lamb is a hot commodity this shipping season. Some sheep might be "hot" in another sense – and not in a good way.

According to the county sheriff, Kelly Serr, 1,300 head of white-faced ewes and mostly white-faced lambs were reported missing from a southern Perkins County, South Dakota ranch. According to the livestock owner who wishes to remain anonymous, the sheep showed up missing between May and September.

"Our office has not received any other official reports of stolen sheep, but we would welcome the reporting by producers of any stolen livestock," Serr said.

The sheriff's office is working with state brand investigors in hopes of recovering the missing sheep.

Sheriff Serr encourages producers to keep a watchful eye for anything out of the ordinary, most especially strange vehicles that may be frequenting their areas. "Our rural counties west of the river are vast and sparsely populated making it important for people to keep a watchful eye out on their property as well as their neighbors," he said.

Industry cooperation is necessary to help locate and identify stolen livestock. Serr recommends that those purchasing sheep or other livestock buy from a reputable producer and contact the local sheriff's office if anything seems amiss.

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While sheep brands are registerable with the state – paint brands on the left or right side or hip and hot iron brands on the nose or right or left jaw – sheep are not brand inspected upon change of ownership or when leaving the brand area like cattle, horses and mules. In some cases sheep bear just an identifying paint brand for in-herd use or no brand at all.

The Basel family in the next county south reported theft from their sheep flock a couple of weeks ago.

The frantic circling of her sheep gave Tammy Basel the first hint that something was amiss on the central Meade County ranch she operates with her husband, Dallis.

The flock was in a pasture about one-quarter mile from the ranch house that sits about three miles from the nearest road access.

Without her flock's signals, which she noticed in late August, Basel might not have discovered until it was time to gather the lambs for market a month from now that 264 of her sheep — 87 ewes and 177 lambs — had disappeared.

The remaining sheep "ran here and they ran there. Something really bad had upset them," recalled Basel, who is devoted to her flock. The ewes and lambs were so stressed that they refused to settle down no matter how hard she tried to bunch them.

"They were telling me something was wrong," Basel said Tuesday.

Those lambs, and the ewes that disappeared with them, represented approximately one-fourth of Basel's sheep herd and a lifetime of breeding for the fourth-generation sheep rancher.

The sheep were still restless after it rained the next day. As soon as it was dry enough, Basel gathered her herd to count noses. That's when she realized how many were missing.

Range losses are not uncommon for sheep ranchers. Lambs are small and easy prey for hungry predators, but losses of this magnitude cannot be blamed on coyotes and other varmints.

Basel enlisted the help of a neighbor and his plane to fly a 10-square-mile grid around the ranch in a fruitless search for the sheep. They found no traces.

Basel can only conclude that someone loaded approximately $50,000 in uninsured livestock into stock trailers or trucks and drove off while the Basels were away from home.

"This is double blow after losing cattle in Atlas," Basel said, referring to the October 2013 blizzard. The Basels lost 30 cows to the killer storm.

After counting her stock, Basel contacted the Meade County Sheriff's Office and the South Dakota State Brand Board.

"I feel like we had a close date on when they were gone," Basel said. She also had good counts on her stock from weaning time and shearing.

Meade County Chief Deputy Tom Wilts said Tuesday that the sheriff's office is working with brand board agents in the investigation. They have had no other reports of similar livestock thefts, he said.

Wilts suspects that someone may have known the Basels were gone for a couple days to the state fair.

Or, there is another possibility, Wilts said: "These are professionals" who moved in quickly and hauled the sheep out of state.

Basel has spent hours on the phone since discovering the theft. She called sale barns, feed lots and anyone connected with the sheep industry, asking them to be on the watch for anything that raises their suspicions, especially sheep carrying her painted red 'B' brand.

For Basel, the loss of her stock is a personal affront. Sheep are her passion. They are her "babies," and she's concerned that her stock isn't being properly cared for.

"There's hardly a stone I have not been crying under," Basel said. "I am a very determined person."

–story reprinted with permission from Rapid City Journal

–Perkins County information added by TSLN editorial staff

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