The era of dusty stagecoaches and wagon trains is long gone, but cattle thieves never quite rode off into the sunset. They were the bad guys in a thousand Westerns. But today, rustlers are a growing menace in some parts of rural America.
Cattle Rustling is happening right here in Texas.
"That's what we were started for, to catch cattle rustlers and they've never stopped, never slowed down, they just do it a little different now," Hal Dumas, a field inspector for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said.
Instead of driving cattle, thieves strike in the middle of the night and sometimes sell their haul before ranchers know they're gone.
In 2005 $6.2 million worth of livestock and ranch equipment was recovered in Texas and Oklahoma, but the problem doesn't seem to be going away.
In the same year, inspectors with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, a 129-year-old organization covering Texas and Oklahoma, recovered nearly 6,000 head of cattle and 40 horses.
"As long as cattle are here and as long as thieves are around, and as long as they're paying for them, it will be going on," Dumas said.
As for the reason behind the increased crime, some say it's the 25 percent increase in beef prices. Others say thieves tend to be common criminals looking for a fast buck. A calf can go for $600.
"That's what makes so lucrative. If you sell a $500 stereo they'll give you $50 for it, but for a calf you'll get $500 for a $500 calf," Dumas said.
A major investigation in South Houston should be completed soon. Nearly 200 head of stolen cattle should be recovered in the next few weeks. An example of how big this old problem is: three alleged cattle thefts have been reported in Robertson County since May.
A few theft prevention tips: lock gates, brand cattle and horses, put your driver's license number on all equipment, keep a complete and accurate description of livestock on file, and count cattle regularly.
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