Question: What are the rules if stray livestock shows up on my property? Can I keep them?
Answer: The popular adage “finders keepers, losers weepers” may apply on the playground, but it does not apply when it comes to stray livestock.
The Texas Agriculture Code, Chapter 142 deals with procedures regarding stray livestock, exotic livestock, bison, and foul. The rules apply not only to the owner of the land on which the strays have wandered, but also to a lessee, occupant, or caretaker of such land.
Reporting Stray Livestock
The first step if stray livestock appear is a call to the sheriff’s office in the county where the stray is discovered. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.003. This call should be made “as soon as reasonably possible.” In order to be eligible for redemption payment from the owner of the stray livestock, a reporting landowner must do so within five days. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.004(b).
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 is not found or if the owner fails to redeem the livestock within five days, the sheriff will impound the animal. If the animal is not 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.” See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.004. This payment shall be a “reasonable amount for maintenance and damages.” The amount of this payment may either be agreed upon by the parties or, if no agreement can be reached, an action may be filed in the justice court and the justice of the peace will set the payment amount. The requirements for the petition to the justice of the peace are listed by statute and include the name of the owner of the estray, description of the estray, a number of days the estray was trespassing, the name of the owner or occupant of the property, the purpose for which the land is currently used, and a statement that the estray owner and the owner or occupant of the property are unable to agree on the payment. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.007. If the parties disagree with the decision on 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 commissioner’s decision is final. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.008.
Again, as noted above, in order to receive a redemption payment, a landowner must report the stray animals within five days of discovery. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.004(b).
Additionally, if the sheriff is present at the time of redemption, he or she may require payment of a collection fee not to exceed $25. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.005.
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. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.009(a)(5).
Impoundment of Livestock
If the 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 (condition in which capture and impoundment of an estray presents an immediate threat to law enforcement personnel or the health of the estray), the sheriff may dispose of the animal in any manner necessary without prior notice to the owner. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.009; 142.003(d)(2).
After the animal is impounded, the sheriff must prepare a “notice of estray” that contains details including the name and address of the reporting party, location where the animal was found, location of where the estray will be held until disposition, and a description of the animal. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.009(b). The notice shall be filed in the county clerk’s estray records. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.009(c). 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 internet website for at least 15 days. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.009(d).
Redemption of Stray Livestock from Impound
An animal owner may redeem his livestock from impound at anytime 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. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.010. The affidavit must contain the following information: name and address of owner, date the owner discovered the animal was an estray, property from which the animal strayed, a description of the animal, and a sworn statement that the affiant is the owner or caretaker of the animal. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.010. 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. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.010. 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. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.013. At that point, the sheriff will sell the animal at a sheriff sale or at a public auction licensed by the USDA. 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 sheriff, payment to reporting landowner for maintenance or damages.
If the sheriff determines the sale is unlikely to generate sufficient proceeds to cover sale expenses, the sheriff may donate the estray to a non-profit organization or retain the animal to use for county purposes. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.013.
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. See Tex. Agric. Code Section 142.014.