After thieves stole 22 head of cattle, Dwain Hughes has chained and locked all the gates on his farm.
Higher cattle prices have led to more cases of stolen cattle across the country. University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Eldon Cole says southwest Missouri has had more than its fair share. In the last three years, he estimates there were more than 500 head of cattle stolen in the area, with thefts escalating in the last 18 months.
"That number is really less than actuality. We don’t really know a total," he says. "Many farmers don’t always report thefts to the authorities because recovery of the animals doesn’t happen often."
The seven-county radius around Mt. Vernon, Mo., have received the most reports of cattle theft. "Most theories are that there may be a couple groups working together," Cole says.
"It’s not a random act—they are savvy cattlemen that know how to handle and sort animals. Most reports are of calves in the 500 lb. to 750 lb. or 800 lb. range."
Cole has talked to many cattle producers who say the thieves sorted out calves that would be easily identified, separated calves from cows and left the cows, and sorted out black from colored cattle, branded cattle or animals that would easily be identify otherwise. Cole says that this supports the theory that the animals may remain in the area, mixed with other calves and backgrounded for a period of time before selling.
Higher value cattle raises the stakes. While the situation in Missouri seems to be a localized ring targeting farmers in the area, the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) has received 34 reports of stolen or missing livestock so far this year, says Jody Donohue, LMA director of communications. The reports are posted on the LMA website. Those reports range from one to more than 50 head in each case, from states such as California, Wyoming, Missouri, Texas and Iowa.