How Estray Laws Are Causing Beef Among Landowners In Far West Texas

By Michael Marks, Texas Standard

Presidio County is one of 22 in the state that still abides by open-range laws that allow cattle to roam, more or less, where they want. That means it’s perfectly legal for cattle to wander onto any unfenced property. But a 1980 “estray law,” which applies statewide, allows sheriffs to collect unidentifiable cattle. But that conflicts with the open-range laws in those counties.

Now, Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez has asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to settle the dispute.

Susanne Nilsson/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Abbie Perrault is a reporter for the Big Bend Sentinel, and says one area man is trying to reclaim the money he spent getting his cattle back after they were confiscated from a neighboring property three different times.

“He’s over it,” Perrault says. “He’s asked for a lawsuit.”

Perrault says cattle trampled the ground on their way to a spring on the neighboring property. The landowner used the estray laws to remove them.

“This is something that happens multiple times every year,” Perrault says. 

Perrault says the attorney general will likely decide on the matter in December even though there’s already been a local ruling. She says the county commissioners recently voted to return the money to the aggrieved cattle owner.

“[That] kind of opens the sheriff up to a lot of liability because they’re admitting that he illegally collected cattle,” Perrault says.  

Perrault says she doesn’t expect the matter to end up in court, but the Texas Legislature will likely have to address it, especially if the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association brings it up during the next session.

“It would be telling a lot of landowners that if they don’t want wandering cattle, they’re going to have to build fence line,” Perrault says, “which seems easy, but in a county so big, with land so large, it’s a lot of money to build fences that actually adequately keep cattle off of your land.” 

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