From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Livestock Brand Laws in Kentucky

The rancher's daughter is not impressed.



Black Angus bull
I drive by this pasture on my way to and from work. Five black bulls and several donkeys have been kept there through the winter.

This bull has been freeze-branded (see image at right), but I am not sure if the brand belongs to its current owner or a former owner. Many farmers here don't bother to brand their cattle.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has a system for brand registration. You decide what you want the brand to look like, file the papers, and pay a small fee. For the next five years, the brand is yours to use on your livestock as proof of ownership, and then you need to re-register it.

Unfortunately, Kentucky doesn't have a system for brand inspection when branded animals are bought or sold. Thus, branding doesn't provide much protection against theft. A cattle rustler can steal branded cattle, transport them elsewhere, and sell them quite easily. Unless the buyer requests a brand release, the seller doesn't have to supply one. ("Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies.")

Here in Kentucky, no brand inspector ever checks the brands of cattle at sale barns. No officer ever pulls over livestock trailers on the highways to ask the hauler for brand-release papers.

In many states, altering a livestock brand is a felony. It's curious that altering a brand in Kentucky is just a misdemeanor. The fine will not be more than $200 and the jail term will not be more than 6 months. Of course, an altered brand is likely to go undetected anyhow, since we don't have brand inspectors.

One thing that provides a little protection from cattle rustlers is that Kentucky farms are small. The population density is high here, compared to major livestock producing states of the Great Plains. There's a better chance that barking dogs or an alert neighbor might warn the farmer if a thief tried to load a trailer with cattle in the night.

My dad, a cattle rancher all his life, always said that brand registration without brand inspection was a law without teeth. I am sure he was right.

(Related fact: Kentucky ranks 8th in the nation in beef production.)

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