New Mexico Livestock Board has a mission to protect an industry

Feature Story

Nov. 30, 2018
Media Contact:
Baylee Banks
New Mexico Department of Agriculture

New Mexico Livestock Board has a mission to protect an industry

For well over a century, the New Mexico Livestock Board has regulated the health and identification of livestock throughout the state of New Mexico. With a mission to maintain the integrity of the state’s livestock industry, the inspectors are always on alert. Aside from performing daily inspections to ensure that livestock are free from disease, the law enforcement agency handles everything from emergency situations involving the transportation of livestock to theft and animal welfare cases.

Formerly identified as the Cattle Sanitary Board, the state agency merged with the Sheep Sanitary Board in 1967 and formed what is now known as the New Mexico Livestock Board. A total of 50 inspectors are employed full-time with the NMLB, 26 of which are certified police officers. Each inspector is trained to ensure the safety of livestock, one of New Mexico’s most precious commodities.

Animal cruelty cases are listed among the many responsibilities of NMLB inspectors. According to NMLB Deputy Director Shawn Davis, the process of handling such situations usually begins with a call of concern.

“Reports of animal cruelty are often received with the caller wanting to remain anonymous,” said Davis. “Callers will give us the details of the situation they’re seeing so that we can start an investigation.”

The investigation process involves contacting either the owner of the animal or the property on which the animal is being kept, as well as obtaining permission to step foot on that property. If access isn’t granted by the owner, a possible search warrant may be issued.

“If the inspectors feel like what they’re seeing isn’t good, they will apply for a seizure warrant with the magistrate or district court,” said Davis. “The warrant is then signed by a judge, and once they have possession of the animal, the court has 30 days to decide if the animal was being treated cruelly.” The seizure is a civil matter, while the criminal case – if charged – is separate.

In the civil matter, the court then has 30 days to give a deposition in order to declare whether the animal was in fact neglected. Charges often range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the severity of the individual case. Meanwhile, the NMLB will sometimes request that the court assigns the animal to a rescue where it can receive proper care and treatment. The New Mexico Equine Rescue Alliance includes six rescues located throughout the state.

“Many recent cases have gone to horse shelters,” said Davis. “Some of the horses may stay there and some may be rehabilitated, but with most cases, the horse will stay at the rescue for a minimum of one year. If the horse becomes healthy enough, they may be able to ride and adopt out.”

Larceny cases are also included in the NMLB inspectors’ long list of duties. In 2018, two men stole 25 head of livestock from a quarantined ranch in Eddy County. The case went to a grand jury, which resulted in both men facing over 26 felony counts, including transporting stolen livestock, larceny, conspiracy and exporting livestock out of the state without inspection.

While theft is always a potential culprit for missing livestock, the NMLB claims that the number of animals found wandering away from their herd is relatively high. In 2018 alone, the NMLB has returned 1,236 head of livestock worth $1.1 million to their rightful owners. On many occasions, inspectors will find the animals ‘where they aren’t supposed to be,’ and upon returning them, realize that the owners of the missing livestock were never aware that they were missing in the first place. Fortunately, with proper brand identification, they are returned without incident.

Because the dairy and cattle ranching industries rake in the highest cash receipts for the state of New Mexico, it’s no surprise that with a large inventory of beef cattle, calves and dairy cows comes the risk of emergency situations involving the livestock transportation. In a recent incident that occurred on Interstate 25 near Albuquerque, a semi-truck carrying 92 head of cattle rolled over due to a weight shift, killing two cows that were pronounced dead on arrival and injuring two others that were later euthanized due to severe injury. Davis said the low number of casualties among the herd was partly due to the quick response time.

“The initial call to us went out within 15 minutes of the incident,” said Davis. “I think because the response time was so fast, an impressive number of cattle survived.”

The remaining cattle were taken to EXPO New Mexico where they were held before being rerouted.

Emergency response within the agency also covers disease outbreak. In 2011, vesicular stomatitis, a viral disease that primarily affects horses and cattle, broke out across the state. The NMLB was able to keep the disease from spreading to an uncontrolled state by quarantining the effected premises and monitoring the movement of the infected livestock.

“The state vet at the time ordered to shorten the normally accepted range of 30 days for a Certificate of Veterinary Health Inspection to five days during the outbreak,” said Davis. “Spot checks were done at rodeos and other gatherings for compliance. Most diseases of that sort are handled by quarantine and restriction of movement until the disease is under control.”

With a mission to protect the integrity of New Mexico’s livestock industry, the NMLB has a great responsibility to the state and its livestock as a law enforcement agency. Daily inspections to ensure animal health and safety make up a mere fraction of the duties of an NMLB inspector. According to Davis, the hard work of these men and women often goes overlooked.

“The biggest misconception is that the public assumes we’re an agency that solely deals with equine issues,” said Davis. “Even cruelty cases aren’t what keep the agency going day to day. Constant inspections are our first line of defense for New Mexico’s livestock industry, and they are the core activity of our agency’s mission.”

– NMDA –