“Cattle theft is a unique crime,” says Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Special Ranger Bart Perrier. “Anybody can rob a house or commit murder, but not just anybody can steal cattle. I have yet to meet a cattle thief that wasn’t a cowboy.”
The crime has been around since man first took ownership of livestock and is seeing a rapid increase. Sky rocketing cattle prices due to a low national beef herd inventory has been a leading motivation behind thieves.
According to American Red Angus Magazine, as of October 2013, Oklahoma had a record of 835 cases of cattle rustling reported – a 16 percent increase in cattle thefts this year compared to the first 10 months of 2012.
If thieves play their cards right, they can walk away with thousands of dollars in property. And all in a day’s work.
While it may be unsettling, Perrier claims the majority of suspects know their victims; whether it be a neighbor, current or ex-employee.
“A lot of times we’ll work embezzlements on ranches where the suspect works for the ranch. They’ll take a few head here and there thinking they won’t get caught,” he says.
Just recently, a Kansas cattle rustler was busted.
According to The Hutchinson News, police arrested a suspect in Hays, Kan., on an Oklahoma warrant for the alleged theft of 23 head of cattle.
The crime has been linked to a Dec. 3 incident in Stafford County, Kan., where 23 head of cattle were stolen in three groups, along with a 24-foot white Titan gooseneck trailer.
The arrest happened after a stolen trailer and some of the cattle were recovered by Oklahoma authorities.
Since then a cache of items believed to be stolen by the suspect have been found in Stafford County. This includes a backhoe, a goose neck trailer, car trailers and an RV camper amongst other things.
This size of the groups stolen fit Perrier’s statements that the typical size of cattle theft is six to eight head.
“I believe that’s a standard number because most people aren’t really equipped, but have access to a 16-foot trailer,” he says.
According to Perrier, there are ways for farmers and ranchers to protect themselves from theft – the most effective being branding. While he says it’s important to have as many identification form on cattle, tags can easily be cut and tattoos hard to read.
“Most cattle that I have prosecuted to the end of a conviction have been branded cattle,” he says. “If any crime goes to trial, the state has to produce enough evidence beyond reasonable doubt for the jury to convict the defendant – 100 percent identification is a brand.”
He also suggests using locks.
“Locks are not going to keep people out, but it gives physical evidence to support a crime was committed,” says Perrier. “Time is of the essence and if the lock on your gate is cut and you’re missing cattle, you won’t wait three weeks to report it.”
Avoiding schedules and neighbor communication is also advised to keep thieves from feeling comfortable at any given time to make a move.