Colorado brand inspectors keeping up with cattle thieves
Hundreds of cattle go missing every year in Colorado, most of them simply lost. But the state’s brand inspectors work to ensure thieves don’t cash in.
GREELEY — Amid clanging gates and lowing cattle, Terry Florian steps into a crowded pen and begins a subtle dance among the livestock, carefully stepping around and between their churning hooves to catch a glimpse of the brands burned into their hides.
He and his fellow brand inspectors circulating outside the sale barn will cull through more than 200 head of dairy and beef cattle this April morning before they go on the auction block. By cross referencing brands and ownership papers they ensure that the transactions are legitimate, and discourage an age-old scourge of the American West — cattle rustlers.
Though not the pervasive issue it was in the 19th and 20th centuries, cattle theft remains a sporadic problem in Colorado. As recently as December, an Aurora rancher discovered that more than 50 from his herd had been run off his property and, it appeared, loaded onto a truck. Although the case remains under investigation, the animals haven’t been recovered.
Rustling represents an even more troubling practice in some neighboring states. Five years ago, Kansas created a livestock and brand investigation unit under the state attorney general’s office specifically to address cattle theft. Oklahoma officials created a special law enforcement unit to pursue both cattle and farm machinery thefts and reduce losses in that state’s multibillion-dollar agricultural industry.
More than 2.8 million head of cattle across Colorado rank the state 10th in the nation and fuel a more than $2 billion annual economy that fluctuates with the commodities markets. That makes the state’s far-flung herds an attractive target of opportunity, as stolen cattle — if they remain undetected when they’re brought to market — yield the same price as legal cattle.
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