Southwest Missouri cattle thefts on rise

Saturday, February 21, 2009 | 5:35 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — A rash of cattle thefts in southwest Missouri has prompted two organizations to offer a total of $10,000 in rewards for help catching the crooks.

Authorities report that hundreds of animals have been loaded onto trucks and driven away from southwest Missouri farms in recent months. The thefts usually occur in the middle of the night.

"Given the economic times, compared to some other crimes, this is fairly lucrative," Jeff Windett, of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You're looking at animals that are worth hundreds of dollars, and it's pretty quick cash."

Investigators suspect many of the cows and calves are sold in stockyards in nearby states, where sellers need to provide only a name.

On Friday, the Missouri Farm Bureau offered a $5,000 reward for information, joining the Cattlemen's Association, which has also offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides details leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves.

"The key to stopping a theft is the attention of neighbors," said Estil Fretwell, a spokesman for the bureau.

Cattle theft had been a serious problem in recent years when cattle prices were high, but farmers said the problem had decreased after the state established a task force to catch the thieves.

"I thought it died out," said Jim Spencer, a farmer in Lawrence County, who had a dozen cows and calves stolen in December. "But they've been hitting every month for the last few months."

Spencer said his stolen animals, which were registered Gelbviehs, were worth as much as $15,000.

"I doubt I'll ever see them again," he said. "They're long gone."

Anyone who buys cattle should check the seller's driver's license and write down license plate numbers, authorities said.


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