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Loose livestock a growing concern

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GregCapersSheriffLike many of you, I enjoy the satisfaction and rewards of cattle ranching. However, with those rewards come responsibilities that will safeguard the public at large and provide for the safety of the animals as well.  We need to understand the laws associated with ranching and adhere to those laws.

The Texas Agriculture Code has laws that regulate not only cattle, but donkeys, goats, hogs, horses, jacks, jennets, mules and sheep.

Since 1876, the Texas legislature has allowed for local stock laws to be passed that modify common-law rule of open range.

Stock laws are laws determined by local voters and apply to all areas of the county. If these laws are in place, as they are in San Jacinto County, common law is modified to closed range. In a county that has passed a stock law making it a closed range, like in San Jacinto County, livestock owners must restrain their livestock by fencing them in their property.

Stock laws state that certain species of animals, such as horses, jack, jennies, cattle, sheep, etc., may not be permitted to run free within the limits of San Jacinto County. As a landowner and rancher, you have a duty to prevent your livestock from entering the roadways.

Most Texans are quick to note that Texas is an open range or fence out state, meaning that a livestock owner does not have a legal duty to prevent animals from getting onto the roadway. Technically, this a is true; however, there are exceptions to this rule that are important for livestock owners to know.

It’s true that Texas is an open range state. The Texas Supreme Court made it clear more than a century ago when it ruled, “It is the right of every owner of domestic animals in this state to allow them to run free.” This approach was reaffirmed more recently in 1999 when the Texas Supreme Court refused to adopt a common law duty that required a livestock owner to keep livestock off the roadways.

Although this law may be applicable in some counties in the state, it’s not the law in all counties, and it’s not the law in San Jacinto County.

If you are a landowner with livestock in San Jacinto County you have a duty to prevent your livestock from running at large, usually by maintaining an adequate fence to keep your livestock on your property. An adequate fence is defined as being at least 4 feet high and in compliance with the requirements of the TAC.

I think it is important for all members of the community to understand the consequences of estray, or stray livestock, laws.

For instance, a landowner who finds stray livestock on their property should report the stray to my office as soon as reasonably possible. Once stray livestock is discovered, I will attempt to contact the owner. If the owner is found, he, or she may recover the livestock. If an owner is not found or fails to redeem the livestock within five days, the animal will be impounded. If the animal is not recovered from impound, it will be sold at public auction.

I should point out, however, that just because a stray livestock is on one’s land does not mean the landowner can automatically claim it as has his own or remove it by other methods. Refusing to allow the legitimate owner to recover the stray, or disposing of stray is outside of the TAC’s protocol and therefore may be considered livestock theft.

I’m not suggesting that as part of your ranching activities that you are remiss in maintaining your fence lines. For those of you who are not engaging in this activity, I strongly suggest that you do so on a somewhat regular basis by checking your fence lines and making appropriate repairs when needed.

As you may know, we routinely respond to these stray animal calls for service. However, I think you would agree that these calls could potentially increase our response time to a higher priority call for service.

As always, if you have any questions about this subject or any other subject, please feel free to call my office’s non-emergency number (93) 654-4367 and we will be happy to assist you.

Greg Capers is Sheriff of San Jacinto County.

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