High Beef Prices Lead to Cattle Theft

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LAWRENCE COUNTY - Cattle ranchers near this southwest Missouri town say they have seen an increase in cattle thefts they blame on the rising cost of beef and the rising value of their livestock.

Last year's drought and record-high feed prices have cattle farmers shrinking their herds. This leads to a decreased supply of beef as well as record high prices for both beef and cattle.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average retail value for choice beef between 2007 and 2008 was $4.24. So far in 2013, the average retail price is $5.25.

University of Missouri Agriculture Extension Associate Joe Horner said that the average feeder calf produced in Missouri would weigh about 550 pounds when sold and be worth about $1.50 per pound at the local auction, making that animals worth about $825 per head.

Those animals would typically be grown to 1250 pounds in a feedlot,  then slaughtered with the meat sold in retail stores.

Columbia cattle farmer Chuck Miller said people are more likely to steal "gas when it's five dollars a gallon than when it's a dollar a gallon."

"Cattle prices are up quite a little bit as terms of their value from past four to five years," said Miller.

"I know they feel they should shoot (the rustlers). If I lost $30,000 out of my account one day, it would make me pretty upset too," said Lawrence County Sheriff Brad Delay.

"These people out there know what they're doing," said Delay. "They know they're stealing money out of someone's pocket-book and don't have anything to lose."

Delay said that so far in 2013, cattle rustlers have basically doubled their action since 2011.

"In 2011 and 2012 there were about two dozen cattle stolen [in Lawrence County]" said Delay.
It's only April and Lawrence County alone has already experienced about 40 stolen cattle. At this rate, the county could see a 75% increase of theft from 2011 and 2012 to 2013.

Mark Pierce has been a cattle farmer for about 15 years. "I love it," said Pierce. "I wouldn't do anything else."

Pierce said he loves "Watching baby calves run around with their tails in the air and the springtime green grass."

"You never think it's gonna be you," said Pierce, as he explained how cattle rustlers stole six of his baby calves and six cows in late March.

Pierce's loss could be anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000. The people who stole the cattle are looking at a "100 percent profit" said Sheriff Delay.

Delay and Pierce said the rustlers must be professionals. "They know what they're doing," said Delay.

Pierce said that the gate across from his driveway that confined the cattle was "dummy locked," meaning it was not very secure. The rustlers are assumed to have used a horse, trailer and a lure to get the mother cows to follow the calves into the trailer.

Sheriff Delay said tagging cattle isn't always reliable because the tag can be removed similar to an earring. He recommends branding cattle, keeping them away from the road and to be aware and alert of anything suspicious.

Delay said some rustlers take photos of the area prior to stealing the cattle to plan the theft. Some rustlers in southwest Missouri place cups on fence posts or tie flags to mark certain areas.

Pierce said the people who stole his cattle probably knew the routine of he and his wife and the workers who come and go. The rustlers probably knew the time when the Pierce and his workers left or went to bed. He blames an observable routine that doesn't change much day to day.

"When you become predictable, you're more of an opportunity," said Miller. Miller said he and his workers keep good records of their stock, and "Keep gates locked, lights on and vary timing."

Pierce thinks the rustlers came between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. and that he could prevent the thefts by installing lights on the telephone poles at the end of his driveway and a think padlock on his fence.

Delay said thieves could use I-70 for a quick getaway from mid-Missouri farms to Kansas City and St. Louis stockyards.

Delay said with the current cattle prices, cattle rusting "won't die down," but will probably continue to increase. His advice to farmers? "Be vigilant."