Cattle theft on the rise throughout Texas

One arrested and charged with stealing six calves and one cow
By Kathi Bliss
Editor/POST-REGISTER

In a sagging economy, the enterprising find new ways to enhance their income. Cattle ranchers across the Southwest have found some neighbors turning toward less moral – and less expected – means to generate income, taking a queue from the Old West.

Earlier this month, a City of Austin employee turned himself in to the Caldwell County Jail after an investigation revealed he had stolen cattle from a ranch in northern Caldwell County and attempted to sell the animals as his own at the Lockhart Livestock Auction.

Texas and Southwestern Cattle Rangers Association (TSCRA) Special Ranger Doug Hutchison said he received a call on or about Aug. 6 from individuals at the Lockhart Auction reporting suspicious activity and cattle they believed to be stolen.

His investigation led to the eventual arrest of Robert Scott Kollman, 47.

“On that Wednesday, he brought in some calves he wanted to sell at auction,” Hutchison said. “The next day, he brought in another truck, with several head of cattle. He told them to sell most of the cattle for the victim, but took [other head] and said to put them under his name.”

Hutchison said he received a call from ranchers at the Lockhart Auction who suspected Kollman’s activities were not on the level.

“Basically what he was doing was skimming [from the victim, who had asked Kollman to transport the cattle to auction],” Hutchison said. “We took three of the calves back to the ranch, where they immediately paired back up with their mothers.”
Hutchison said the stolen cattle were either recovered and returned to the owner, or sold as the owner originally intended.

“We were lucky that the money [from the buyers of the stolen cattle] hadn’t been paid to Kollman yet, so we were able to seize that check, get those buyers their money back and get the cattle back where they belong.”

Hutchison said TSCRA has seen a rise in cattle theft this year.

In 2008, TSCRA investigated around 4,500 reports of cattle theft. So far in 2009, the organization has investigated more than 8,000 cases.

“I think [cattle thieves] think it’s going to be easier than it really is to steal and sell cattle,” he said. “What they don’t realize is that even if the cattle aren’t branded or tagged, we’re going to figure it out and we’re going to catch them.”

In Texas, Theft of Livestock – Under 10 Head is currently classified as a State Jail Felony, punishable by up to two years in jail. During their last session, the Texas Legislature voted to increase the penalty to a possible ten years in jail; however, that provision will not become effective until Sept. 1.

Hutchison attributed the spike in cattle theft in large part to the state of the economy. However, he said, problems are compounded by the drought.

“The cattle are going to be looking for the green, and getting out of their pastures looking for food and water,” he said. “Also, the fences over [tanks and ponds] that used to hold the cattle in are now just ‘back scratchers’ because the tanks are drying up.”

When cattle wander to another property, he said, they are sometimes taken to auction instead of being returned to their owners.

“Even when things are bad as they are now, ranchers don’t just turn out their cattle,” Hutchison said. “We do hear reports of people turning out mules, and maybe even horses. But cattle – ranchers just don’t do that.”

Wandering cattle should be reported to local authorities or to the TSCRA so they can be returned to their rightful owners. Suspected cattle theft can be reported to the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office at (512) 398-6777, or to TSCRA at (800) 242-7820.
kathibliss@post-register.com

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