Cattle thieves familiar with handling livestock are using scouts to monitor ranches, allowing them to steal cattle with the least chance of detection. Cattle producers in southwest Missouri met to discuss how to protect their herd and catch the robbers.

Several cattle thefts in the area have occurred in the past few months. Many cattle producers may not realize cattle are missing for weeks, so some thefts may still be undiscovered.

Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay said the cattle thefts are traveling in a circuit. According to the Associated Press, a woman casually taking pictures of a farm is actually scouting the area. She marks the fence gate with a strip of masking tape communicating to her partners who will pass the property later.

A meeting of cattle producers, law enforcement officials and others from area counties met last week to share experiences with cattle rustlers and determine how to stop them.

The Monett Times reports some producers are concerned thieves are not punished appropriately once caught. Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney Don Trotter said the maximum penalty of seven years for a first-time offender and fifteen years for a second offense is requested each time.

Usual cattle theft prevention tactics were discussed. Producers are advised to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and record license plate numbers and other details when something seems out of place.

Producers can also setup surveillance cameras where thieves aren’t likely to notice them.

Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay told the audience suspects could be armed, so it’s safer to report activity to authorities. While some armatures may be meth addicts looking for a way to make money, it’s more common for the thieves to be experienced.

“They’re doing the same thing they do during the day, but they’re doing it at night,” Trotter told the Monett Times. “They work at large ranches or other livestock organizations and know what they’re doing.”