Jul 17, 2023

Good deed turns into lesson about rescuing cattle

On July 2, ranchers Kate Lomax and Kenneth Wendel from Saddlehawk Ranch found a lost red heifer near their property on Franklin Road SE. The calf’s four legs were stuck in a roadway cattle guard, but the ranchers managed to release her and tend to minor wounds.

The ranch posted video of Wendel lifting the calf out of the cattle guard on Instagram and told the Deming Headlight that they would adopt the calf if no one claimed her in two weeks. The ranchers also operate Equine Safe Haven, a nonprofit organization Lomax founded last November, which offers education in horsemanship.

Days later, what seemed like a good deed took a 180-degree turn when Lomax and Wendell received a citation from the New Mexico Livestock Board.

According to an incident report, on July 6 Livestock Inspector Jessica Dominguez came across the Headlight’s article about the rescue via social media. She attempted to make contact with Lomax over the phone without success. Dominguez then reached out to cattle rancher Darren Albrecht, the only property owner with a pasture nearby.

Troy Patterson, regional manager for the Livestock Board,, recommended a citation for unlawful disposition of animals or larceny. Dominguez sought contact with Lomax to determine the appropriate citation, ultimately settling on unlawful disposition. The report does not specify a fine.

At the same time, Albrecht sent a worker to pick up the calf at Saddlehawk Ranch in order to pair the calf with her mother as quickly as possible, but Lomax turned him away, according to the report. She later told Dominguez she had received multiple claims for the calf and wanted to ensure that Albrecht’s representative was proper.

Lomax, who initially agreed to an interview for this story but was then unavailable, subsequently surrendered the calf, who was reunited with her mother.

Per New Mexico statute, Lomax and Wendel should have called the Livestock Board as soon as possible after rescuing the calf so the board could determine ownership.

Local rancher Russell Johnson echoed that advice, saying that Lomax and Wendel could have faced a larceny charge. He remarked that cattle are not pets to be adopted if found.

“I cannot stress enough that people should leave livestock alone,” Johnson wrote in an email to the Headlight.

Johnson, who had reacted strongly to the story on Facebook, said he felt especially concerned due to multiple livestock thefts at area ranches, including his family’s. He said Johnson Ranches has lost over 300 head to theft over 30 years.

“It’s a huge financial impact, not just for us but also for Luna County, because those are the cattle we’re gonna pay taxes on,” Johnson said.

Johnson wanted to emphasize that people, specifically non-locals, need to be cognizant of ranches and private property; and if something feels out of place, he recommended reaching out to the ranches first.

“Livestock is property,” he said. “It’s owned and regulated, and we pay taxes.”

Annya Loya can be reached at [email protected].