‘A major undertaking’: Authorities say it’s not easy to steal 80 head of cattle. That didn’t stop someone in Baca County

Courtesy Steve McEndree
A herd of cattle on Steve McEndree’s Baca County ranch in Fall 2022.

State and local authorities are still looking for leads in the theft of about 80 cattle from a Baca County ranch early last month. 

Steve McEndree, a 4th generation rancher who works 18,000 acres of land, says the cows were taken from his land early in the second week of December. He estimates the animals were worth about $100,000 and were not insured.

“We never thought anybody would steal that many,” McEndree said. “We thought they might steal three or four or something, but we never had any indication of anything like that.”

Colorado’s Brand Inspection Division of the Department of Agriculture dates back to before Colorado was a state. It describes its mission as protecting “Colorado’s livestock industry from loss by theft, straying or illegal butchering.” 

The nearly 70 staff members of the brand inspection office respond to dozens of reports each year of missing or stolen animals. For example, the office said in 2019 that 90 reports were filed involving 420 animals. Still, the state’s brand commissioner Chris Whitney said the McEndree ranch theft is much larger than what’s normally seen. 

“If you're going to steal 80 mature animals, you're going to need two semis just to pick them up and take them somewhere,” Whitney said. “That would be a major undertaking.” 

Whitney said it's usually difficult in the western U.S. to profit from stolen livestock, where ownership is verified at every point of sale. However, a number of states farther east don’t have any branding laws and mixing stolen animals into a larger herd or selling them to slaughter is easier. 

McEndree, 65, said he doesn’t have much hope for getting his animals back at this point. He said he feels embarrassed by the theft and regrets not having cameras installed at his corrals. He said the loss will push out his retirement plans back a few years. 

“If I'd have been a 30-year-old man just getting started, it would've broke us,” McEndree said.  “But, we've got a little equity built. We'll survive.” 

The Baca County Sheriff’s Office declined a request for comment on the investigation.