Rustlers mean big losses for ranchers

Rustlers mean big losses for ranchers
Producers resist branding because it can lower marketability of hides
The Associated Press
MARIONVILLE, Mo. – A lot of things were said about cattle rustling in Bob Herndon’s garage, but it was a lawman’s remarks that drove home just how bad the problem is in the Ozarks. Eighty-seven thefts. Twenty-nine counties. Almost a half-million dollars in stolen property. “They’re pretty bold individuals,” said Sgt. Dan Nash, a Missouri Highway Patrol detective who’s been investigating the thefts for more than a year. For the first time, Nash explained Thursday to ranchers – many of whom have awakened to a smaller herd in recent months – that an “organized group” is behind the ongoing thefts. The crooks are stealing the cattle under cover of darkness and then selling them at local stockyards and barns within a few days, he said. “I’m confident we’ll arrest 10 or 15 people for stealing cows,” Nash told dozens of farmers seated on wooden planks perched atop plastic crates. The lengthy investigation has been a frustrating one, the sergeant said. The main hang-up: There’s no way to prove a cow is stolen unless it has been branded or the owner has a blood sample. Most cattle farmers can’t pick their calves out of the hundreds that go through regional sale barns each day, Nash said. And most keep dismal records, he added. “It’s like catching a piece of straw in a haystack. It all blends together.” Since October, Herndon and his wife, Sara, have been holding informal meetings in their two-car garage – a cozy, cedar-lined headquarters for the resistance. On Oct. 16 – as the Herndons slept – someone snipped through four wire fences, drove onto their land and coaxed 25 calves into a trailer using their corral, which lies only a few hundred feet from busy U.S. 60. The Herndons have since taken the steps to register a brand with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, but Bob Herndon is still reluctant about taking the bureaucratic route. Cattle producers have traditionally resisted branding because it can lower marketability of hides and injure the animals if not done correctly. But with so many thefts, many farmers are rethinking their stance. About 5,000 brands have been recorded in Missouri, and it is the only legal identification method that stands up in court. “The No. 1 deterrent is branding,” said Sgt. Loren Pope of the Christian County Sheriff’s Department. Pope recently returned from two days in Oklahoma, where he trained with an investigator who deals solely with cattle and farm equipment thefts. Changing daily schedules to throw off cattle thieves and carrying a pen and pad to jot down vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers were other tips offered by Pope.
© 2006 The Joplin Globe.

Comments are closed.