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Milam County sheriff's program for ranchers will help track lost and stolen cattle, equipment

Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 18:53:39-04

CAMERON, Texas — Milam County ranch owner and reserve deputy Bryan Lightfoot has seen it both ways when a fence is broken and cattle go missing. He’s worked those calls as a former full-time officer, and he’s had to go searching for his own runaway livestock.

“Sometimes you don’t get that lucky," Lightfoot said. "You know, I mean with a large amount [of animals] and a landowner that checks their cattle on a daily basis, [they] would pick up on that. But if you don’t check your cattle on a daily basis, how are you gonna know they’re missing?”

Lightfoot noted that if cattle tags are legible, and if a rancher’s neighbors are communicative, cattle can be successfully returned. But as Milam County Sheriff’s deputy Stephen Hanel pointed out, without those factors, returning lost animals is an arduous process. Last year alone, Milam County deputies responded to just under 900 of these calls for service.

“If it takes an hour to locate the livestock, that deputy is out of service for an hour or two or three hours," Hanel said.

Recently Hanel was inspired by the work of another Texas county and decided to create a system that ranchers can opt into: a county directory that is only accessible to police officers. Participants label animals and large farm equipment with county placards, and this lets law enforcement know what belongs to whom.

“We will have everything documented and will get the landowner to fill out a form for us that gives us their contact information, any secondary information, such as if they have a ranch hand or relative who’s close by that can respond," Hanel explained.

Another aspect of this system is that stolen equipment and animals could be noticed by police, as these assets would have I.D. numbers leading directly back to the owners. Five people signed up on Thursday, the launch date of the program, and on Friday deputies Hanel and Lightfoot became numbers six and seven.

“The more ranchers and farmers that do this – not only does it provide a service to them and help, but it also helps law enforcement," Lightfoot said.

Those interested in participating can contact the Milam County non-emergency line at 254-697-7033.