Montana: MDOL recovers $48 million in strayed livestock
During the past 10 years, the Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) has recovered 41,907 head of stray livestock worth more than $48 million for livestock producers around the state.
It’s a long-standing part of the department’s tradition, said John Grainger, MDOL’s Brands Enforcement Division administrator.
“Recovery of strayed and stolen livestock has historically been a big part of our duties,” Grainger said. “We’ve been doing it for nearly 130 years, and have gotten pretty good at it. The big numbers are a testament to how well our brands system works.”
Cattle are most often strayed when they wander off and get mixed with other herds. They’re generally identified “in the country” by ranchers or local inspectors, or when taken to market.
That’s where brands come in.
“A brand is like a return address for livestock,” Grainger said. “If we find a stray with a brand, we’re almost certain to find its owner.”
But that’s not always the case, especially with unbranded livestock. When ownership of livestock cannot be determined – such animals are called estrays – the department must provide public notice of the livestock found in the county where the livestock were found. The animal is then held for 10-30 days before being sold at market; proceeds from the sale are used to cover feed, boarding and other expenses.
“It’s a hassle we’d rather avoid,” Grainger said.
Livestock producers can take a few simple steps to prevent losing livestock:
• Brand cattle clearly and correctly with an iron of sufficient size (a minimum of 4 inches is recommended);
• Rebrand any branded cattle purchased;
• Keep track of livestock;
• Keep fences in good repair;
• Know the neighbors;
• Know the district investigator and local inspectors.
Strayed livestock should be reported to a local inspector or district investigator, Grainger said, while producers who have missing livestock can check the department’s online Strayed & Stolen Bulletin.
Branding livestock is also a good way to avoid any potential problems with theft.
“Theft isn’t a big problem here like it is in some states, mostly because our brands system works so well, but it’s a simple fact that unbranded livestock are easier to steal than branded livestock,” Grainger said.
The department’s district investigators investigated 306 felonies the past 10 years, mostly involving stolen cattle and misbranding of cattle.
People suspecting theft or other illegal activities involving livestock can call the department’s Crimestopper’s hotline at 1-800-503-6084. Callers can remain anonymous, and could be eligible for a cash reward.