Unlike regular thefts which are handled by local police departments, livestock and farm equipment thefts are handled by the TSCRA. The TSCRA is funded entirely by membership dues and receives no state or federal funding.
When cattle or equipment are stolen, it’s up to TSCRA rangers to track down the stolen property.
“Our members come first,” TSCRA Special Ranger Stephen Martin said to the group of TSCRA members and guests at Mission sin Caja on Thursday, Oct. 24. “Without you, we wouldn’t be here.”
Martin said sheriff’s departments typically have limited manpower, resources and budgets. He said the TSCRA works with them since they specialize in finding stolen cattle and equipment. He also said local law enforcement will usually take the report from the victim and then hand over the investigation to the TSCRA.
“It’s difficult for them, and that’s where we come in,” Martin said.
According to TSCRA Ranger Sonny Seewald, there was an 80 percent rate of return for stolen property by the TSCRA last year—about $5 million worth of cattle and equipment.
“I would say for the last five years it’s gotten worse every year,” Seewald said. “A lot of it is dopers making fast, easy money to support their habit.”
Theft rates vary from month to month but are usually between five to 10 cases each month, according to Martin.
“It used to be that I knew everyone, but with the oil and gas, we see more strangers,” Martin said.
Seewald said that oil field worker thieves typically don’t steal from farmers and ranchers; they are more likely to steal from their employer instead.
“With the oil field traffic, we thought there would be more (thefts),” Seewald said. “Oil field theft is real common.”
Martin said the type of thefts in a region varies. Right now, equipment thefts are more common than cattle thefts in South Texas.
“It’s easier to dispose of and quicker to profit,” Martin said. “Stolen cattle is a restricted market, and equipment is a quicker dollar.”
The price of cattle is high right now—at about $1.64 per pound. Seewald said most stolen property brings in pennies on the dollar, while cattle or equipment property reaps full prices.
“The days of leaving keys in vehicles and the ranch unlocked are pretty much over with,” Martin said.
Seewald said identification numbers on equipment help when looking for stolen equipment and can be used as evidence. Martin said residents are getting better about writing down their VIN and serial numbers.
A lot of stolen farm equipment ends up in a “chop shop” and is sold outside the United States, according to Martin. He said the John Deere dealership in Beeville has been burglarized frequently.
“I can’t count how often it’s been broken into,” Martin said.
Equipment is commonly stolen from those who live in Corpus Christi or San Antonio and aren’t on their farm or ranch property on a daily basis, according to Seewald.
Former president of the TSCRA, Dick Sharon of Duval County, spoke about a cattle thief, who stole several hundred head of cattle, who was apprehended and, when asked how he chose which ranches to steal from, he said he stole from ones that didn’t have a TSCRA sign.
Although branding is considered antiquated due to the convenience of tagging, TSCRA’s CEO Eldon White said that tags don’t help when recovering stolen cattle.
“All the cattle with the branding still had it when they were returned,” White said. “But, very few had their tag.”
Seewald advised farmers and ranchers to be observant and to brand their cattle. Martin said branded cattle are difficult to sell and are easier to track back to their owner.
“How will I know it’s yours without a brand?” Seewald said.