Question: If stray livestock show up on my property, can I keep them?
Answer: “Finders keepers, losers weepers” may apply on the playground, but it doesn’t apply when it comes to stray livestock.
The Texas Agriculture Code, Chapter 142 deals with procedures regarding stray livestock, exotic livestock, bison and fowl.
One country caveat. While there is a legal framework in place for dealing with stray animals, it’s perfectly acceptable, and often preferable, to handle the situation neighbor-to-neighbor without involving the sheriff. If that’s not possible, there is a series of steps outlined below that are designed to help resolve the issue.
Reporting Stray Livestock The first step if stray livestock appear is calling the sheriff’s office in the county where the stray is discovered. In order to be eligible for redemption payment from the stray livestock’s owner, the reporting landowner must report within five days.
Once stray livestock are reported, the sheriff will attempt to contact the owner. If the owner is found, he or she may redeem the livestock in accordance with the procedures set forth below. If an owner isn’t found, or if the owner fails to redeem the livestock within five days, the sheriff will impound the animal. If the animal isn’t recovered from impound, the sheriff will sell the animal at public auction as described below.
Redemption of Stray Livestock Before Impoundment An owner of stray livestock may redeem the animals upon making a “redemption payment.” This payment shall be a “reasonable amount for maintenance and damages.” The payment amount may either be agreed upon by the parties or, if no agreement can be reached, the justice of the peace will set the payment amount.
If the parties disagree with the decision of the justice of the peace, then the justice will appoint three special commissioners (disinterested persons familiar with livestock and agriculture who live in the county) to render a decision on the proper redemption amount. The special commissioners’ decision is final.
A livestock owner must redeem the stray animal no later than five days after notification (or be making a good faith effort to make the redemption payment), or the sheriff is required to proceed with the impoundment process set forth below.
Impoundment of Livestock If animals are not immediately redeemed by their owner (or if an owner is not found), the sheriff may impound the animals or, if a perilous condition exists, the sheriff may dispose of the animal in any manner necessary without prior notice to the owner.
After the animal is impounded, the sheriff must prepare a “notice of estray,” which shall be filed in the county clerk’s estray records.
Further, if no owner is ascertainable, the sheriff will conduct a “diligent search” to find the owner including searching the county register of recorded brands if the animal is branded. If the search does not reveal the owner, then the notice of estray is posted on the public notice board at the county courthouse and either in a local newspaper of general circulation or on the county’s Internet website for at least 15 days.
Redemption of Stray Livestock from Impound An animal owner may redeem his livestock from impound at any time prior to sale. In order to do so, he or she must file an ownership affidavit with the sheriff and file the affidavit in the estray records.
Additionally, the owner must pay all estray handling expenses, which include all expenses incurred by the party who discovered the estray and by the sheriff. This amount will be determined by the sheriff. If the owner disagrees, then he or she may proceed with filing a justice court petition through the procedures explained above.
Disposition or Sale of Impounded Strays If a stray animal is not redeemed within three days after the final advertisement in the paper or county Internet website, or is not redeemed before the 18th day after the date of impoundment, title to the animal is deemed to pass to the county. At that point, the sheriff will sell the animal at a sheriff’s sale or at a public auction. The sheriff receives proceeds from the sale, which are applied in the following order: payment of sale expenses, payment of impoundment fee and other fees due to the sheriff, and payment to reporting landowner for maintenance or damages.
If the original owner comes forward within 180 days after the animal is sold, he or she may recover net proceeds from the sale upon filing an ownership affidavit.
Ask an Ag Attorney by Tiffany Dowell Lashmet Tiffany Dowell Lashmet is an Ag Law Specialist with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. She grew up on her family’s farm and ranch in northeastern New Mexico. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Agribusiness (Farm and Ranch Management) from Oklahoma State University and a law degree from the University of New Mexico. She is licensed to practice in Texas and New Mexico. These questions are compiled on her blog, “Questions from Tiffany’s Desk.” To submit a question, email her at Tiffany.DowellLashmet@ag.tamu.edu. You can follow her blog at www.agrilife.org/texasaglaw .
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide any specific legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author.