Bovine bandits are on the rise – or are the cows just coming home?

Recent news stories have reported that the centuries-old crime of cattle rustling – or stealing cows – is alive and well in Texas, thanks to rising beef prices.

Investigating livestock and ranch equipment theft is typically up to the Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, which has 27 licensed investigators in Texas and three in Oklahoma. So I lassoed some statistics from the TSCRA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to see what I could find. Of note:

Source: Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
Source: Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
  • In 2014, they investigated about 800 complaints of missing or stolen livestock – including about 4,000 cattle – and filed criminal charges in 36 cases. Cattle rustling is a state felony, punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.
  • This year, TSCRA has investigated 463 case reports and recovered $1.16 million in missing or stolen property, spokesman Laramie Adams said.
  • No bull – the price of cattle has clearly risen over the years. But I didn’t find a similar increase in the number of criminal charges filed, which has remained fairly steady. Adams wasn’t sure of the value of property TSCRA investigators recovered in previous years.

    Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

“In a lot of them, the cattle are located. They’ll report it stolen, and we may have found it, or it may have strayed off and it’s in a neighbor’s pasture, or the sheriff’s office may have impounded them,” said Larry Gray, TSCRA’s director of law enforcement.

Ranching is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and cattle represent half of Texas’ agriculture earnings. Got cows? Keep a watchful eye on your herd, and make sure they’re branded.

Note: I used the USDA’s statistics for medium and large feeder steer auctioned in San Angelo, and calculated the cattle price with the assumption that each calf weighed 525 pounds. 

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