Livestock Shootings, Killings Taken Seriously by Industry, NMLB
Maliciously killing or injuring livestock in New Mexico is a fourth-degree felony, prosecutable by up to eighteen months in jail and/or up to a $5000 fine, according to Bobby Pierce, Assistant Director of the New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB). Whether or not an animal is actually killed is not important in these cases, the penalties are the same either way.
This type of case can be very hard to investigate because of the lack of evidence in most situations, Pierce said. “We can retrieve a bullet, and sometimes even find the gun, but it is hard to put a case together without additional evidence or a cooperating witness.”
Despite that difficulty, the NMLB takes these cases very seriously and prosecutes offenders when possible. “There are not a large number of occurrences, but the way we see it, one is too many. Livestock are personal property with monetary and emotional value to their owners. We don’t condone this kind of thing in any way.”
Reasons behind livestock killings or injuries vary from case to case, from revenge or retaliation, to a person actually needing meat, to groups that don’t believe livestock should be on public land. “I don’t know what makes people think they have the right to go out and shoot someone’s livestock,” he said. “Actually, I don’t think they do think. Most times, I think people are just out driving around, shooting their guns, and start wondering what their guns would do and whether or not they could kill something.”
While disputes between neighboring ranchers do arise, they typically don’t get to the point of livestock being killed. Often, Pierce explained, conflicts develop when urban residents move into more rural areas and don’t understand the fencing laws and their responsibilities under those laws. “New Mexico is a fence-out state, so it’s the responsibility of a landowner or homeowner to fence livestock out of their property,” he said. “Many times, when cows start coming into subdivisions and getting into people’s yards like happened recently in Rio Rancho, the problem is that there is not a good fence to keep them out or that it has been damaged by trespassers.”
The NMLB recommends that landowners take precautions to protect their property and prevent access to livestock. On private property, keeping gates closed and locked makes it more difficult for the public to gain access. Landowners should report incidences of cut fences and illegal entry to property to law enforcement and watch that area more closely.
On main, well-traveled roads, the NMLB recommends that livestock be kept away from the road if possible. Barns or sheds should be located away from main roads, or oriented to make it difficult for people driving by to see what is inside.
Livestock owners whose cattle are injured or killed should immediately contact both the NMLB and their local sheriff’s department. Both agencies will work together to investigate the case, and in some cases, the New Mexico State Police will be involved. Anyone with information on a livestock shooting can contact either agency, as well. “The bottom line is, there are better ways to deal with problems than shooting an animal,” he said. The main number to the NMLB is 505.841.6161.