BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A proposed ordinance that includes fines and possible jail time for allowing cattle to roam free in the county is in front of the Lee County Attorney.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber told the Lee County Board of Supervisors during a Monday workshop that his office put together the “bones” of the ordinance and sent it to Lee County Attorney Ross Braden last week.
Weber said the ordinance includes language governing wild roaming cattle, horses and sheep, but didn’t include penalties for hogs because Iowa code is clear that free roaming swine are to be put down and tested for disease.
“Hopefully we’ll get this to you in the next few weeks,” Weber said. “As far as penalties, our hands have been tied. This is happening in other spots of the state, but now since you’ve been hearing about it, you’re feeling our pain. Some people are just not meant to have these animals, so they need to either get with it, or get out of the business.”
Supervisors were made aware of the problem of free roaming cattle, including bulls that were tearing up neighboring properties and intruding on the livelihoods of property owners about two months ago when Supervisor Garry Seyb brought the issue to the table.
Seyb said in June that the “wild” cattle are roaming about 3,000 acres or close to 12.5 miles of timber in Lee County. Tuesday he said he’s still hearing from additional property owners about the loose herds and it’s time for the county to do something.
“That means pass this ordinance when we get it to you and then we’ll do that.” Weber said.
The sheriff said the ordinance is about 10 years late.
“We’ve been hearing these stories for the past 10 years. It’s a shame it’s gotten this far, but it should have been done 10 years ago,” Weber said.
“This is generational. That’s how they’ve learned to do it. An ordinance like this is aimed at getting better at what you do so no one gets hurt.”
Preliminary penalties in the proposed ordinance would allow for three written warnings for cattle owners who’s cattle have escaped. After that fines of $250, then $500, then $750 could be imposed before a possible jail sentence of up to 30 days.
Seyb said the idea is not to make money off fines, but get people to take ownership of their property.
“The idea that there are several people out there that have consistent issues of animals getting out, or owners for whatever reason saying, ‘Oh, they’ll find their way back in’ is not an appropriate answer, especially when the adjoining owners are suffering the costs,” Seyb said.
Supervisor Rich Harlow asked what would happen if after the fines and threat of jail, the cattle are still out and about.
Weber said there is language proposed that would allow the county to contract with someone to go in and get the animals and charge the owners. And if the owners decline to accept responsibility for the cattle, then a neighbor could claim the animals, get them checked by a veterinarian and keep them. If the original owner then steps up with proof the animal is their’s, the party keeping the animals could then file for a claim for costs against the original cattle owners before turning the animals back over.
Seyb said the Lee County Sheriff’s office has received more than 30 calls about the loose cattle since the beginning of the year.
Weber said the jail time is the attention getter.
“You get stuck in the pokie for a couple days when you’re used to getting up to go to work… now you’re getting up and not going anywhere. That’s the attention getter.”