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Cattlemen consider eliminating brand inspections


LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)--The Nebraska Cattlemen have floated a plan to do away with the state's nearly 60-year-old brand-inspection requirement.

Branding, which dates to the 1800s, was started to counter cattle rustling. Brand inspection became state law with the creation of the Nebraska Brand Committee in 1941.

But many ranchers are no longer willing to pay the 75-cent-per-head fee that's charged for inspection whenever cattle are sold or cross the north-south inspection line in central Nebraska that divides farming and ranching country.

"Why is it that there are only 13 states out of 50 that have cattle that find it necessary to have inspection of some sort?'' Melody Benjamin of the Cattlemen's office in Alliance asked the Lincoln Journal Star. "Why are we special? Why is this necessary here?''

The Cattlemen aren't aiming to get rid of branding, Benjamin said, just the inspections. They plan to hold a series of informational and educational meetings across the state before deciding whether to approach a state senator about sponsoring a bill to do so.

State Sen. LeRoy Louden, a cattle rancher from Ellsworth, said he wouldn't back a change in state law.

"We're having problems now with cattle being stolen and hauled off,'' Louden said.

Last year, the Brand Committee matched a brand from among the 34,500 in record books with the hide imprint on some 2,500 head of strays to verify ownership on animals worth an estimated $1.7 million.

Committee investigators have obtained 14 felony convictions in the past five years in matters of livestock fraud and theft. The estimated value of the cattle involved was $25 million.

"Each one of these criminal convictions obtained relied heavily on brand inspection documents that were issued when brand inspections were performed,'' said Steve Stanec, executive director of the committee. "Without that paper trail, those convictions would be hard to obtain.''

Hyannis rancher Destry Brown said he favors branding. "We can't operate in the west part of this country in the big Sandhills without a brand,'' he said.

And, the brand is worthless unless it's registered and documented, Brown said.

But the Cattlemen's Benjamin said an inspection fee that's charged on one side of a line and not the other is "an inequity.'' And inspections and fees don't seem necessary in every local transaction.

"If I sell six cows to a neighbor, they have to come out and inspect them before they can move across the fence,'' she said.



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