A man from Texas called our office who recently had 4 horses wander onto his property over the course of several days. He placed them in a pasture with his other horses and waited to hear if anyone was looking for them. The man is interested in keeping the horses and wants to know how long he has to wait until the horses are considered legally abandoned and he can claim them as his own?

Finding stray livestock in Texas is not a case of “finders keepers, losers weepers”. The law of livestock estrays, found in Chapter 142 of the Texas Agriculture Code, as well as the livestock estray laws particular to each county in Texas apply here. This law requires people who find stray livestock to notify the sheriff immediately about the discovery of the livestock. Once the sheriff’s department is notified of the presence of the stray horses, they will attempt to find the owner and/or impound the horses. If the sheriff cannot find the owner, they will, at the landowner’s request, impound the horse and eventually auction them off if the owner does not claim them within 18 days after impoundment.

Someone who finds stray horses on their property should::

1) Notify the sheriff about the stray horses (with detailed descriptions) in writing, via fax, or some other way that provides proof that you sent notice. The sheriff must be notified within five days of discovery of the animals if you later wish to seek compensation for your costs of caring for the animals.

2) Ask the sheriff where you can find a copy of your county-specific livestock estray laws, if any;

3) Keep detailed records and receipts of everything you spend on the horses. If the owner returns to claim the horses, or the sheriff auctions off the horses, you are entitled to receive reimbursement for costs related to the care of the animal; and

4) If you wish to own the horses, you should keep in touch with the sheriff to find out when and where the sheriff’s sale will occur. You can bid on the horses there.

Note: If the sheriff locates the owner or if the owner returns to claim the horses and there is a disagreement over the amount owed for their care, the landowner may file a petition under the Section 142.007 of the Texas Agriculture Code in the justice of the peace court in their county and have the matter settled in justice court.