OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As beef prices rise, so do the number of conversations in the ranching industry about mandatory branding, said Michael Kelsey, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president.
Oklahoma has no statewide standard for livestock identification, a situation that frustrates law enforcement officers such as Jerry Flowers, special agent at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Brands are obvious at sales stockyards, so cattle rustling cases would be fewer overall and quicker to resolve. Flowers and his staff repeatedly urge ranchers to mark their property just as they would a license plate on a car. And yet only half of the state’s agriculture producers do so, he said, which results in overall industry economic loss and increased law enforcement work hours.
Kelsey told The Journal Record that, like Flowers, he strongly supports branding — the office maintains a physical copy of the state’s brand registry — but only as a personal choice. That isn’t likely to change until ranchers see a significant increase in herd shrinkage, which happens when market prices spike. A single 500-pound calf, for example, is a portable asset with a potential value of $3 per pound.
“Our membership is extremely supportive of voluntary branding,” he said. “Branding has its place. But there are some places where it doesn’t belong, like when you’re dealing with stocker cattle that might change hands several times. Branding is extremely effective, but it should be a producer decision.”
Even though beef prices are on the rise, Kelsey and Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese don’t expect to see legislation introduced this year to make brands mandatory as they are in New Mexico, Colorado and many other states.
“There’s opposition in the industry to require branding,” Reese said. “Certainly, when you’re hunting stolen cattle, it’s beneficial, but as far as making it mandatory, there’s resistance. It should remain a personal decision.”
Reese said some cattle change hands up to five times over their lives and that could result in a lot of scar tissue from the process. A lot of cows are brought into the state for sale. Reese said he cannot support mandatory branding, regardless of Flowers’ position.
At the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, spokesman Jeremy Fuchs echoed Reese’s position. His organization, funded by ranchers, is responsible for policing a lot of agriculture crime in Oklahoma as well as Texas. TSCRA agents would also prefer more branding, he said.
“What works for one cattle raiser might not work for another,” Fuchs said. “There’s a lot of value in that independence. I think you’ll find in the livestock industry, and the agriculture industry as a whole, has a wide independent streak.”
Jet McCoy, a rancher near Allen, is of two minds about the issue, although he clearly favors one position more than the other. McCoy has been in the business for more than 50 years and accepts his losses as a matter of inevitable statistics. The most recent theft occurred in 2013 when someone took 99 head of cattle off his pasture and tried to sell them in Atoka. Flowers worked the case, looking for McCoy’s tilted “TC” brand.
“I’ve used the same brand for so long, everyone knows it in my part of this country,” McCoy said. “I would personally not turn out an animal to pasture that didn’t already have my brand on it. I’ve had a lot of dealings with states that have brand laws; it makes things easier overall.
“If you bring up branding laws around here like other states have, you enter a completely different realm of feelings on the topic,” he said.