Cattle theft is alive and well in southwest Missouri. This, in spite of law enforcement efforts, cattle producer night patrols, trail cameras, neighborhood watches and vigilant observations by livestock markets, says Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
A meeting held Jan. 4 in Lawrence County was intended to enhance communications between farmers, law enforcement and livestock markets. The meeting was filled with questions about the extent of thefts, lack of arrests and convictions and the failure of media to recognize the huge economic loss that comes with stealing 10 to 20 or more cattle.
"Depending on the size, sex and quality of the stolen cattle, the loss could easily run 15 to 20 thousand dollars due to the current excellent market," said Cole.
The general tone of the meeting was that there are suspects but catching them in the act or in possession of stolen cattle is difficult. Some may be stealing to support their drug (meth) habit, but in general, producers felt the thieves were excellent cattlemen and do a thorough job of evaluating the intended victim's farms and cattle.
"They obviously know how to handle cattle, especially on a full-moon night," said Cole.
Most of the thefts show the cattle have been sorted with the culls left behind, calves split from the cows, steers separated from heifers and that branded cattle were not taken.
The fact that branded cattle are left behind should encourage branding of cattle as a deterrent to theft. It's estimated that fewer than 10 percent of the cattle in Missouri are branded.
"Of those branded, it's difficult to easily read brands on long-haired cattle, especially in the winter. If the brands are haired over, clipping should improve the brands clarity," said Cole. "Positive identification to prove ownership is next to impossible unless the cattle are branded, either with a hot iron or freeze brand. Ear tags are easily removed, chips are expensive and tattoos are difficult to read."
The feeling of those at the meeting was the stolen cattle probably are not being sold through markets by the thieves. Instead, they may be commingled at some location, grown for a period of time then marketed directly to a feedlot.
Farmers were urged to use caution when confronting would-be thieves. Taking down vehicle or trailer license numbers and descriptions is encouraged then promptly report the theft to the local sheriff's office.
There are $5000 rewards for the arrest and conviction of cattle thieves by both the Missouri Cattlemen's Association and the Missouri Farm Bureau. Some individuals have developed their own personal rewards. Unfortunately, according to Cole, the rewards have not received much use.
Cattlemen were encouraged to check their cattle regularly and report thefts as soon as possible. Notification channels are set up by the Livestock Marketing Association hotline 1-800-821-2048 and the Missouri Rural Crimes Taskforce 1-888-484-8477.
Source: MU Extension