The New Mexico Livestock Board
A perspective from the Director
by Myles Culbertson, Executive Director
As we close out 2012, it is a good time to take a look back over the past year, in fact the past few years, and give some thought to how we should approach the future.
Animal health issues always require the agency’s attention and response. We are barely catching our breath after three years of dealing with bovine tuberculosis in N.M., which carried a heavy regulatory process burden that in some ways overshadowed the reality of that disease’s actual threat in the state. Unrestricted access to the interstate marketplace was nevertheless at stake, and the Livestock Board’s statutory capacity and structure were necessary to assure that access. The same holds true for the other diseases over recent years, including trichomoniasis, equine piroplasmosis, vesicular stomatitis, and others. Unfortunately, in each case, there has been a costly and burdensome effect on segments of the livestock industry; but, in every case, interstate movement had to be preserved in the face of close attention being paid by the health officials of the states that receive our livestock.
Each time a livestock disease issue confronts N.M., the Livestock Board provides front line protection of the industry, and the other states have a high level of respect for our ability to respond. As a result, producers of cattle, horses and sheep have not suffered deep market discounts and unreasonable shipment restrictions. It is impossible to place overall metrics on the savings to the livestock industry, but any individual producer can calculate the adverse financial effect to his/her own operation of potential intestate boycotts or other severe measures.
The other primary responsibility of the Livestock Board is integrity of ownership. There are fourteen “brand states” wherein the brand is considered proof of ownership, but N.M. is one of only two of those states in which it is illegal to not brand your cattle. The registered brand is therefore not only legally protected, but legally required. Each year, the Livestock Board undertakes a number of larceny investigations that result in prosecution. In FY 2012 there were eight. The low number of investigations is a reflection of the agency’s movement control laws, regulations, and operations. The agency’s day-to-day inspection and law enforcement activities prevent theft, but it is obviously difficult to measure results based on events that were not allowed to take place. That said, producers recognize the adverse impact of larceny on their herds and livelihoods if few or no control measures exist.
Protection of health and ownership are the primary statutory mandates of the Livestock Board, but over the past several years our personnel have had to address the growing problem of neglected, abandoned, and otherwise cruelly treated livestock, especially among the horse population in the state. In fiscal 2012 the agency investigated 122 animal cruelty cases, up 27 percent from the year previous. This problem does not stem from the livestock production segment. Maltreatment of the animals in our care violates the stewardship values ingrained in us, not to mention the fact it is economically irrational. The cases we investigate almost invariably involve people with little or no direct connection with agriculture; for example, people who thought they wanted horses and who had no understanding of the care requirements and costs. We sometimes encounter situations wherein there is no apparent reason for someone to have owned or possessed the animals at all. The scenes are harsh and sometimes heartbreaking. The Livestock Board must be the one dealing with these cases because we better understand what we are looking at than people or agencies unfamiliar with livestock. Animal neglect, cruelty, and abandonment is a societal problem that demands the attention and involvement of the livestock industry and its representative regulatory agency.
Today the Livestock Board finds itself with a mandate that includes not only the direct economic interests of the state’s agricultural producers but, to a degree, also that of the general populace. We are called upon, in our law enforcement capacity, to address general animal welfare and also to respond to emergencies such as fires and major weather events. For this reason and others the people of N.M. justifiably have an obligation to augment this agency’s budget.
The Livestock Board’s major challenge for the future is, as in the past, a largely financial one. The proper balance of revenue sources must combine producer generated fees and taxpayer dollars in a way that preserves the statutory industry protections originally vested in the agency while fulfilling certain specific expectations of society as a whole. This must be done without diluting the agency’s autonomy and primary responsibility to the producers of N.M..
The Livestock Board traditionally operates under austere fiscal limitations and yet accomplishes the necessary ‘bang for the buck’, making 38,000 inspections involving 2,000,000 head of livestock and driving 1,600,000 miles each year to accomplish the control needed for the livestock industry to be secure from theft and disease. The Board will necessarily need to take a hard-nosed, realistic and creative look at future revenue sources and what those sources must deliver to continue to achieve the mission.
In the state’s centennial, this agency celebrates 125 years, having originated in 1887 as the N.M. Cattle Sanitary Board. A few years later the Sheep Sanitary Board was created, and in 1967 the two agencies merged. Unlike other state agencies it was conceived and created by the livestock industry itself, reaching into the powers of the territory and later the state to provide necessary statutory protections from disease and theft. Executive branch departments and agencies of state government are appropriately extensions of and means by which to carry forward the agenda of the Governor. With the Livestock Board, however, there is the aspect of protection of, by, and for the livestock producers, creating an extension and means of a different nature. The livestock producers rely upon the support of N.M.’s governors to make well-considered appointments to the Board in order for the industry’s own beneficial agenda to be set and met.
For the Livestock Board, the issues of the future are much like those of the past, but with new societal dimensions. The industry, through its appointed Board, will not be exempt from making the necessary careful, correct decisions to determine that future. The good news is that your industry is well represented by this Board.