RIRIE — Rick Mickelsen’s horses wear a lazy heart brand on their left thigh. It’s a brand that has been in the Mickelsen family since 1945 and is one of 17,695 recorded in Idaho since the state started keeping records in 1905.
Mickelsen says old family brands are not unusual in Idaho.
“There are a lot of brands like this one, that get passed down in the same family a long time,” he says.
He should know. He’s one of 34 full-time and eight part-time brand inspectors working for the Idaho Brand Department, a division of the Idaho State Police.
Mickelsen grew up in the livestock industry, on a family ranch near Driggs. He joined the Idaho Brand Department in 1990, at age 20, and attended the Peace Officers Standards and Training academy two years later. He has worked as a deputy brand Inspector for 29 years.
“My job is to inspect livestock for ownership purposes and to prevent theft,” he says.
More than two million head of Idaho livestock were inspected by Mickelsen and his colleagues in 2018. These inspections are required on cattle and horses, mules and asses in three situations: when ownership changes for any reason (gift or sale), when an animal is leaving the state of Idaho and when an animal is going to slaughter. Idaho’s brand laws are defined by state law, with records maintained at the state office in Meridian, along with a database of brands cataloged in the Idaho Brand Book.
Even unbranded stock must have a brand inspection when transported or sold, and when they go out of state.
“It can be confusing for people who don’t buy or sell very often, or have an animal that’s not branded,” Mickelsen says. “But these laws are for the good of owners. They help prevent theft.”
He reminds buyers to always ask for a brand inspection when purchasing cattle or horses, and to carry proof of ownership (or written permission from the owner) when hauling in Idaho.
Most inspections are routine. However, Mickelsen has sorted out contentious ownership disputes and investigated criminal cases of intentional theft. He also gets calls from citizens and law enforcement about livestock found loose or in the wrong place.
“Usually somebody’s gate got left open,” he says. “I enjoy helping identify animals and returning them to their rightful owner.”
Driving a white pickup with the prominent Idaho Brand Department logo on the door, Mickelsen’s work takes him, “Wherever somebody has horses or cattle to inspect.”
But it’s not always an easy trek.
“Sometimes it’s a long drive, or the weather is awful, or bad roads mean I get to put the chains on several times,” he says. “But I really enjoy getting to see all this beautiful country and these great ranches. I like working with livestock people. I really like my job.”
In his free time, Mickelsen makes custom saddles and horse gear for family members: his wife, Wendy and kids, Tyson and Mylee.
To get a brand inspection or learn more, contact the Idaho Brand Department toll free at 800-884-7070.