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Cattle Rustling: Eastern South Dakota reports missing cows and more

Ruth Wiechmann
for Tri-State Livestock News

Reports of cattle recently gone missing in eastern South Dakota have local law enforcement personnel busy following leads, sale barn staff on the lookout and ranchers frustrated. Cattle rustling may be a thing of the past but it is unfortunately also a thing of the present.

Both Hamlin County and Yankton County currently have open cases of cattle presumed stolen. Thirty-nine head of yearlings went missing from a farm near Estelline and Lake Poinsett, South Dakota, between July 1 and July 15. Seventeen head of fall bred cows were apparently loaded into a trailer from their pasture near Lesterville, South Dakota, between the evening of July 21 and the morning of July 22.

Steve Wuebben, a Lieutenant with the Yankton County Sheriff’s Department, said they were called out to Lesterville on the morning of July 22 to investigate a report of stolen cattle.

Dan Kubal is monitoring his fall calving herd closely these days, checking three times per day. He last visited the pasture the cows were stolen from around eight o’clock on the evening of the twenty-first. When he went back to the pasture the next morning he noticed something was amiss.

“I noticed that my gate was all loose and the wires of the barbed wire fence were all cut,” Kubal said. “As I looked more closely I could see trailer tracks, footprints, and hoof prints of horses. It looked like they had used an alley between two pastures as a spot to load the cows in their trailer. We got several people out on four wheelers to count the cows and came up short.”

Lieutenant Wuebben confirmed the evidence found at the scene.

“We found the tire impressions of a pickup and trailer,” he said. “We also found the prints of horses’ hooves indicating that horses had been used to gather and load the missing cattle.”

Dan and Jodi Kubal’s cows are predominately black with a few red angus, baldies and Herefords thrown in. They were tagged with Z-Tags; one group has double blue tags, one group has double white tags and a third group has one white and one yellow tag. Most are branded on the right hip with the Kubals’ brand, which is JD connected with a hanging K on the lower right. The cows with the double white ear tags were purchased from Barry and Jeff Jones at Midland this spring and had not yet been rebranded with the Kubals’ brand but they were previously branded with the Jones’ brands and can be identified that way.

Bill Hutchinson, Martin, South Dakota, is a former brand inspector and current chairman of the South Dakota Stockgrowers’ brand committee. He said that while branding your livestock will not prevent attempts of theft, it is a huge deterrent to would-be thieves.

“Number one, brand inspection is a pretty big deterrent,” he said. “If people know the cattle will be brand inspected at a sale barn or for a private sale they will think twice. Number two, if your cattle are branded there is a much better chance of finding them and prosecuting the people who took them.”

Currently, only the counties west of the Missouri River in South Dakota require a brand inspection to leave the area or for a change of ownership. Cattle, horse and mule owners east of the river can legally brand their animals with their registered brands, but there is no brand inspection requirement. Hutchinson said it would make sense for the whole state to be included in the brand inspection area, but it is up to the producers in the counties east of the river to make their voices heard if they want to participate.

“Local inspections give accountability,” Hutchinson said. “A statewide brand inspection would be a benefit to the producers east of the river.”

Hutchinson said that awareness, neighborliness and common sense practices can also help to prevent theft.

“We’re out horseback a lot checking our livestock,” he said. “Pay attention to details when you’re out there. Be aware if you see a vehicle that you don’t recognize; whoever took the Kubals’ cattle knew his comings and goings and timed the crime accordingly. Be a good neighbor. Tell each other if you see something out of the ordinary or see cattle moved to an unusual place. Never leave portable facilities up in your pastures. When times are tough there will always be a few people who think they need money badly enough to go about trying to get it the wrong way.”

Ear tags have their place for animal identification, but Hutchinson said there’s nothing like a brand.

“Ear tags can be easily removed or simply fall out,” he said. “A branded animal is permanently identified for life.”

Meanwhile in Yankton County, the Sheriff’s department is following leads on the missing Kubal cattle and a reward is being offered for information leading to the return of the cattle and the arrest and conviction of the thieves.

“These cases are not easy,” Lieutenant Wuebben said. “What we have to go on this time is better than most.”


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