Colorado cattle thefts mirror boom in beef prices

As the market value of cattle continues to climb across the country, so does the number reported missing and stolen — suggesting that more and more thieves are deciding it is worth it to pick a few off of the herd and turn them over for profit.

“The cattle market is so good that people are willing to take the risk,” Colorado Brand Commissioner Chris Whitney said.

In 2010, heifers and large frame steers for beef were getting about $125 per hundredweight (cwt). In late July of this year, the USDA reported Colorado prices at $250 per cwt. That means a large frame (700-800 pound) heifer can be worth $2,000.

The number of livestock reported missing or stolen in Colorado nearly tripled from 2010 to 2011, going from 331 reported stolen in 2010 to 829 in 2011. In 2012, 765 were reported stolen. There was a slight decrease in 2013, with 599 reported stolen, according to Whitney.

Wellington has reported two cases of missing or stolen livestock so far in 2014, one in April from a private citizen and one in May from Horton Feedlot.

An employee at Horton Feedlot said that they saw security footage of a vehicle pulling up on the day the calf went missing, leading them to believe it was stolen, but decided it was not worth enough to report to police.

“It was only worth a few hundred dollars, and there’s a very scarce chance the police would have found anything,” the employee said.
Cattle thieves are rarely found and prosecuted, said Whitney, because local law enforcement is not always willing to commit the time and resources.

“Local prosecutors are busy and often have no knowledge of livestock,” Whitney said. “We have to push hard to get them to prosecute (cattle thieves).”

Morgan County has seen some significant cattle thefts in the last couple of years that were never resolved, including two separate thefts from cattle rancher Charles Thompson, who lists Weldona as his home address.

Thompson reported 38 cows and 49 calves, worth $121,650, stolen between May and October of 2012. A year later, between July 2013 and January 2014, Thompson reported 46 cows and 55 calves stolen, worth $96,500.

North Forty News contacted Thompson, but he declined to comment on the incidents.

Farmers who notice that their livestock are missing are encouraged to report them to their local brand commissioners right away so that they can begin the search. Often times, however, the cattle or livestock have simply wandered off and turn up shortly.

Fort Collins District Brand Supervisor Jim Easthouse said that most missing cattle in this area are lost for a short time and then found later. “If there are missing cattle, it’s usually the young cattle, which are susceptible to predators,” he said.

Don Hergert of Hergert Land & Cattle Company recalls a night about a decade ago when he was woken up at 4 a.m. by the state patrol, telling him that 400 of his cattle had broken out and were on the loose.

Hergert’s neighbors rolled out of bed and helped him recover his livestock. Over the next few days, Hergert recovered all but half a dozen of his cattle, some of which were corralled by his neighbors and some by the brand office.

Brand offices around the state, which keep an eye on over 3 million head of livestock in Colorado, are able to recover livestock by matching their brand to their registered owner.

Brand inspectors are strict about not allowing cattle to be sold if they have brands matching those reported as missing. According to Whitney, this makes it very difficult to sell stolen cattle in Colorado.

But the statewide increases in cattle theft suggest that thieves are finding a way around these strict laws. According to Whitney, some thieves will attempt to hide stolen cattle in their own herds, some will try to re-brand the cattle (illegal in the state of Colorado), or take the cattle across state lines.

“(As a cattle thief), you need to take them out of the state to a less picky state,” Whitney said. “If you had to pick a state it might be Kansas. Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah are all tough like we are.”

“Or, you can be really stupid and take them to a sale barn (in Colorado),” Whitney added. “And we will catch you.”

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