SD man arrested for stealing 29 heifers in Moody County
for Tri-State Livestock News
A South Dakota man is again behind bars, this time for stealing 29 head of heifers from a Moody County, South Dakota, feedyard and selling them at Mitchell Livestock Auction.
According to a press release from Moody County Sheriff’s Office, Joshua Nygaard was arrested March 27 for allegedly stealing 29 feeder heifers from John Geraets on Feb. 7, 2018. As of March 28, he was being held at the Moody County jail on $10,000 cash bond, and a detainer issued by the Department of Corrections.
He allegedly used a trailer that had been left at A Bark K Trailer Sales in Sioux Falls to steal the cattle. When the customer left the trailer to be repaired, it was clean. The next morning it was apparent the trailer had been used to haul cattle during the night.
The cattle that were stolen had been yarded about a quarter of a mile from Geraets’ place. Geraets said he didn’t know Nygaard, but is acquainted with Nygaard’s ex-wife, who lives in a nearby town.
“My assumption is that he used Google maps and found a place with cattle that didn’t have a house, or just drove around until he saw someplace that he could steal from,” Geraets said.
It appeared that Nygaard visited the place twice, first to pen the cattle, then, returning with the trailer, loaded them and hauled them to the sale barn.
Geraets reported the theft the next morning, and called Mitchell Livestock Auction to let them know to be on the lookout for the missing heifers. “That was the first place we called,” Geraets said. Geraets’ uncle lives near Mitchell and offered to go to the sale that day. “But we didn’t think anyone would steal them and sell them the next day,” Geraets said.
BRANDS NOT REQUIRED
Some of the heifers had ear tags and some were ear-notched, but none were branded. Brands are not required east of the Missouri River in South Dakota, and livestock markets don’t require proof of ownership.
Don Stange, part owner of Mitchell Livestock Auction, verified that they were aware of the missing cattle ahead of the sale, but didn’t catch them until after they’d been sold. “We did a little follow-up ourselves, checked on a few things and figured we’d better call the law enforcement,” Stange said.
The ear tags were still intact, and they came in as a group of 29 black and red feeder heifers, fitting the description given by Garaets. The livestock auction sorted six head off the bottom and sold them in two groups.
“If people call us, we watch out for cattle coming through, but you can’t help everybody. If you think something’s wrong, you try to help the farmer out,” he said.
Geraets said he hadn’t been notified of the arrest, though he’d been told who had likely stolen the cattle, and had gone to the buyer’s place and identified the cattle a week or 10 days after the theft.
“He (Nygaard) admitted to selling the cattle and cashing the check, but not to stealing them,” Geraets said.
A press release from the Moody County Sheriff’s Office said Nygaard is being charged with grand theft, a class four felony, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, plus one count of third degree burglary, which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It also emphasized that Nygaard is innocent until proven guilty.
Nygaard has used this technique before. According to a press release from the Union County State’s Attorney, on Nov. 8, 2013, Nygaard stole about $12,000 worth of pigs from Sun Terra Farms in Union County, South Dakota. He used a stolen trailer and sold the pigs the same day at Sioux Center, Iowa. He was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for grand theft, and was ordered to pay more than $12,000 in restitution. He was out on parole when he allegedly stole the cattle in Moody County. According to the press release, Nygaard has at least four previous felony convictions on his record.
Geraets said he doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to get any of the money for the heifers back. He won’t get the heifers back because they’re feeder cattle and they were sold legally by the auction barn. Any restitution he may see will come as a judgment against Nygaard.
East of the Missouri River, where brand inspections are not required, livestock can be identified by other forms such as DNA, said Debbie Trapp, director of the South Dakota Brand Board. In order for DNA to work as legal proof, there has to be a reference animal in the owner’s possession to compare the DNA to — like the dam, in the case of a dispute over ownership of calves.
Brands are legal proof of ownership statewide, but inspection is not required for sale east of the Missouri. “Just because brand inspections aren’t required, doesn’t mean they might not be branded,” Trapp said.
Bill Hutchinson, chairman of the South Dakota Stockgrowers brand committee, said this is one more argument for a statewide brand inspection. “If that had happened west of the river and they were branded and the person bringing them didn’t have clearance, the proceeds would have been held for proof of ownership.”
Geraets said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to change the brand system, that the expense would outweigh the benefits. “I feel like there might be future or current technology that would be better than branding, but that all comes at an expense too.” ❖