Ray Kroc, a resident of a rural town in Texas, awoke one morning to find several head of cattle grazing in his backyard. Kroc does not have any idea who the owner might be and the cattle are untagged, unbranded and have no other identifying marks. Kroc is hopeful that Texas has some type of “finders keepers” statute and fences the cattle in so that he may “use” them for a business that he recently started. If they remain unclaimed, can Kroc keep the cattle and use them to supersize his business?
No, there is no “finders keepers” when it comes to another Texan’s livestock. The notion of wandering cattle, horses or other livestock (known as “estray” in the law) is unfamiliar to most city folk but not uncommon to those inhabiting more rural areas. Unfortunately for Kroc, he is going to have to turn the cattle over. If he fails to do so, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association notes that he can be charged with “Theft of Livestock” (a cattle rustler, I suppose). In Texas, Kroc is obligated to report the ”stray” to the county sheriff as soon as reasonably possible. The sheriff will then notify the owner or, if the owner is unknown, impound the cattle. If the owner still cannot be located after certain efforts have been undertaken, the cattle may be sold (with funds going to the county), donated to a nonprofit organization or retained for county purposes. While Kroc cannot keep the cattle, Texas law does provide that he shall be reimbursed, a reasonable amount, for any “maintenance and damages.” Check out the list of animals (including a red Beefmaster bull, 4 Longhorns, a sorrel and white paint gelding and a Jack Donkey) impounded by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. Wichita County Sheriff Lt. Cecil Yoder said his department spends several hours every week chasing down loose livestock that have escaped through broken fences. In an attempt to be neighborly, officers used to lead the lost animals back onto the owner’s property. But now, Yoder says the cows will be impounded.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor. Do you know someone who owns “exotic livestock” or “exotic fowl”? These are any mammals or animals, respectively, which are not indigenous to the State of Texas, including animals from the deer and antelope families and game birds not indigenous to Texas. Unlike loose livestock, a Texan can only claim to be the owner of exotic livestock or exotic fowl if the animal is “tagged, branded, banded, or marked in another conspicuous manner that can be read or identified from a long distance and that identifies the animal as being the property of the claimant.” Otherwise, it appears that exotic livestock or exotic fowl that are loose are “fair game!”