Beware on the range: Cattle rustling in Texas is up

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO, April 1 (Reuters) — Watch out on the range,
pardner, because cattle rustling in Texas is up.

The number of cattle stolen from Texas ranches in 2010 rose
15 percent from the previous year and was three times the
figure of three years ago, according to data released on
Friday.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association,
which employs special investigators to work with lawmen to
investigate cattle theft, said the number of cattle stolen in
2010 reached 7,400 head compared with 6,400 the previous year
and only 2,400 in 2007.

“We attribute much of that to the economy,” the
Association’s Carmen Fenton said.

She says high levels of rural unemployment and poverty lead
to more cattle thefts, and she says rustlers have noticed the
skyrocketing price of beef.

Prices for live cattle surged by more than 20 percent
during 2010 to around 110 cents per pound by the end of the
year, based on Chicago futures market. Prices have continued to
rise this year and now stand at more than 120 cents a pound.

Rancher Emil ‘Sonny’ Seewald says stealing cattle can be
much more lucrative than other types of theft.

“On the cattle they can get the full market price,” he
said. “If they steal a car or the stereo out of your car, they
won’t get but ten cents on the dollar.”

Cattlemen said the wide open spaces of ranches makes them
difficult to patrol, although more cattle ranchers are
installing security cameras to keep watch over their herds.

“Its hard to stay there and watch them all, and we have a
lot of absentee ranchers,” Seewald said.

Fenton says while some sophisticated rings use helicopters
to steal entire herds, most cattle rustling involves one or two
head at a time and driving them away in a pickup truck.

The solution to cattle rustling today is the same as it was
in the wild west of the 1880s, branding the cattle with a
unique mark with a hot iron.

“They can certainly brand their cattle, that helps for a
quick recovery,” she said. “They register that brand with the
county.”

If a brand is stolen, the authorities send out a warning to
all auction barns and the cattle may be detected if they are
sold.

Cattle theft in Texas now is classified as theft and
depending on the value of the cattle stolen, the crook can get
between two and 20 years in prison.
(Editing by Wendell Marsh and Greg McCune)

Beware on the range: Cattle rustling in Texas is up