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Estray farm animals rare in Stark County

North Dakota has a policy for dealing with lost and abandoned animals, but officials said the number of cases is low.

"There has been some around, but the ones we find we usually find owners for," Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said.

This year four mares, four mules and one cow are estray in Stark County.

An estray animal is defined as "any marked or branded cattle, horse or mule found at any livestock market, to which a shipper cannot produce title or satisfactory evidence of ownership," according to Chapter 36-22-01 of the North Dakota Century Code. The North Dakota Stockmen's Association is required by state law to inspect the animal to determine ownership.

"Sometimes they take on the form of 'there is a bull in my cornfield,'" said Julie Ellingson, North Dakota Stockmen's Association executive vice president. "Maybe a load of feeder calves are brought to town and there is one or two mixed in of somebody else's."

Ellingson said the North Dakota Stockmen's Association typically waits 60 days to call an animal estray. After it is deemed as such, fees are charged for inspection. She added a bill can also be kept for care of the animal.

If ownership cannot be determined, the animal is impounded at a local facility. The association must also print a notice of the estray animals in a newspaper every December to alert possible owners where their animals are located. If the animals are never claimed, they can be sold at public auctions on a "case-by-case basis," Ellingson said.

Tuhy said animals in Stark County are usually stored at local facilities like the Stockmen's Livestock Exchange in Dickinson. Stockmen's Livestock Exchange President Larry Schnell said he hasn't heard of people abandoning cattle or horses around the Dickinson area.

"We're hearing a lot about it nationwide since they stopped the slaughter of horses," he said. "There is a lot horse just being turned loose."

U.S. lawmakers banned the slaughtering of horsed in 2007. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that 138,000 horses were transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010, about the same amount that was killed in the U.S. before the ban.

Tuhy said the sheriff's department tries to find the owner of the animal before it is classified as estray. He added the department doesn't get very many calls for abandoned animals, and it usually find owners for the ones it does get calls for. Sometimes the animals find the owners.

"If it is a cow or something, they usually find their way home," he said. "They know their home, especially if they are missing a calf."

Tuhy said people who find lost animals should contact neighbors to see if they are missing livestock. If they cannot determine who owns the animal, they should call local authorities.

"If they have a brand on them, we'll sure try and see if we can find out who the owner is," he said. "Usually, if they have a brand on them, we will be able to find the owners."