Program aids in tracking stolen livestock

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Starting this month, the Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association will launch a national Web-based theft-prevention service.

The initiative, called the Horse Identification Program or HIP, helps ranchers and law enforcement officers locate stolen horses by recording vital information such as color, description, medical history and brand and will include a digital picture, said Todd McCartney, director of the program for the organization.

New Mexican farmers and ranchers may sign up for the system, however the association’s investigators are only going to be available to follow up on leads in Texas and in Oklahoma. Still, McCartney said the program would be beneficial to New Mexicans because information can also be passed to local law enforcement or other target areas such as slaughterhouses.

Charlie Rogers, owner and manager of Clovis Livestock Auction said horse theft isn’t much of a problem in the area. He credits the strength of the local brand inspectors with holding down the number of thefts.

He said between 4,000 and 5,000 horses are sold at his auction each year. The brand inspectors are on the property monitoring the transactions.

Cliff Mascarenas, deputy director with the New Mexico Livestock Board, said they are developing something similar to the HIP program that will probably debut later this year. The current system of identifying and tracking horses goes all the way back to the 1880s, Mascarenas said, although it has served the state well.

“We have a pretty strong livestock enforcement code,” he said. “It’s been revised to some degree (since the 1880s), but the intent of the laws are still the same.”

He said the 36 investigators at the livestock board made more than 700 traffic stops on people pulling horse and livestock trailers last year to check and make sure they owned the animals they were transporting.

“We inspect for health and for ownership, to protect the state fro theft and from any diseases that might affect the livestock industry,” he said.

According to a press release on their Web site, association investigators recovered more than $5.4 million in stolen livestock and equipment in 2003. Thirty-one field investigators investigated over 1,200 cases and recovered 4,700 head of cattle and 70 horses.

McCartney said the program has already been in place in Texas and available to members, but the new system will be available nationwide.

Rogers said an average horse would cost about $2,000 in this area. A high-performance horse with more training could cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.