On Easter Sunday, Larry Mallory from Mount Vernon woke up to find 17 calves and a cow had been stolen. "The cow was branded, and I'm sure they didn't want her," he notes. "They gathered them up in a pen, sorted the calves off, and they went in and loaded them. I'm sure they hauled them off with a stolen trailer." He is one of many that have started branding. "We're going to start branding the baby calves, as much as I hate to."
They went to a lot of work to steal them. "I never dreamed somebody would go in there and sort the calves off the cows and steal them," Mallory says. "They're not afraid of the law." He has heard of cattlemen being stolen from three times. Most thefts have occurred within Jasper, Lawrence, Greene and Berry Counties. "In some places, you can't go two or three miles without driving by farms calves have been stolen from."
Cattle thieves following a pattern
Thieves often steal trailers first, a loss which can reach $15,000. "It's always the same scenario," Mallory says. "They steal a trailer, they cut your fence down, steal them and normally the trailer shows up somewhere else later." Losing calves to theft has a devastating impact on a farmer, Mallory says. "You finally get some calves ready to sell, and there's nothing to sell," he says. "Everything I make or lose in my lifetime is connected to cattle somehow."
Although they are criminals, the thieves know what they are doing. "These guys are not scared of getting caught," he says. "It's almost like they're invisible." Thieves even stole cameras one farmer even installed after a previous theft. "They rub it in everybody's face," Mallory says. "Something needs to be done."
Mallory and the Joplin Regional Stockyards are working to raise money for a reward to can help cattle producers who have already lost calves and prevent future thefts. "I would really like to get a large sum of money out here and make sure anytime somebody's cattle are stolen, there would be a sizeable reward," Mallory says. "If we can put this together, I'm going to put down the first payment on it."
Skyler Moore, field representative at Joplin Regional Stockyards, says there has been a significant impact throughout the region. "Within a 100-mile radius of the stockyard, there have probably been about 1,000 cattle stolen," he says. This includes 15 to 20 customers at the stockyard. "There have been up to 45 head stolen at a time," he says. "There are more thieves around than there ever has been."
Moore says the thieves are likely local. "They've been around cattle a lot in their lives," he says. "They know the back roads and they know the people who own the cattle." His father, Jackie Moore, manages the stockyards, and Moore says the cattle aren't being sold locally. "I'd say the cattle are probably going out of state," he says. "If someone shows up with several cattle that we don't know, we usually check into it."
Cattle producers taking preventative measures
Since they've become aware of thefts, farmers and ranchers have taken measures to protect against them. "You're seeing farmers going out and buying insurance," Moore says. "They're starting to brand their cattle." Although it may not prevent all thefts, Moore says branding helps. "The cattle business is just a huge pipeline. There might be two or three steps in the pipeline," he says. "If you're not branded, you'll never have a chance to find out who's got your cattle."
There are several things cattle producers can do to raise awareness, like communicating with the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, Moore says. "This is a time when everybody needs to pull together and figure out the best solution to get them caught." The risks are high for a cattle producer without worrying about theft, he says. "There isn't a lot left over anyway. You do it because you love what you do."