Rustling cattle profitable business during high markets in beef industry

“Lazy thieves can make easy money stealing high-priced cattle,” the lawman bluntly warned the room filled with cattlemen that caution should be taken to prevent cattle rustling.

“Record prices are driving thefts of cattle,” said Kendal Lothman at the Beef Producers Information Seminar, in Emporia.

Speaking to the breakfast session hosted by 580 WIBW and moderated by longtime farm editor Kelly Lenz, Lothman is a special agent for the livestock and brand investigation unit of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.

With broad experience in law enforcement, Lothman said Kansas has more than 5.7 million cattle, and 45 percent are in the western one-third of the state. This is likely due to large confinements such as feedlots and dairies.

“Cattle are easy ready targets for those in the bad guy business,” explained Lothman, whose office has moved from Topeka to “the middle of the state” at Great Bend.

“As scrap iron prices have declined, there has been an increase in cattle rustling. Unlike in most other property crimes, thieves will get fair market value for the cattle they steal. Tools or other stolen property usually are subject to depreciation when sold,” Lothman clarified.

“That’s the big difference; cattle have a set value, ready market. It’s easy to sell cattle, compared to selling scrap iron,” insisted Lothman, who has not had any horse stealing cases, likely due to low prices.

Generally understanding livestock from working in feedlots, sale barns, and the like, cattle rustlers “have the knowledge to make a quick dollar with no work,” often to “fund their habit,” whatever it might be.

“These guys do their homework. They may not be the smartest cookies. But, thieves check out cattle in corrals, pastures, know when there isn’t anybody around. They’ll use the corrals there, or maybe just park their trailer in a fence corner, and run the cattle into it. With no expenses, just a few head is a lot of money,” Lothman verified.

Cattle weighing four to six hundred pounds are most often stolen in groups of ten head or less. “That’s a big loss, a big deal to the one who owns the cattle,” he emphasized.

Cows and baby calves are also stolen; generally one or two head at a time.

Finding the cattle after they’ve been stolen is Lothman’s job, and it’s a difficult task, with low success, in reality.

“However, cattlemen need to help themselves. Just use more common sense, and that will help me,” the speaker said.

“Check your cattle on a regular basis. Count them every time you go to check water or salt, and keep records of date and time. That should be at least every week or preferably more often,” he advised.

“If there is not the exact count, the cattle are missing, strayed or stolen. Attempt should be made to locate the cattle personally, contact neighbors, and then always report the missing cattle to the county sheriff,” Lothman said.

“Even if the cattle are located later in your own pastures or nearby, it’s still better to report missing inventory immediately. Timeliness is of utmost importance in tracking thieves,” he contended.

In today’s mobile society, cattle stolen one day can be sold many counties and states away by the next day.

When cattle are reported missing, Lothman works closely with the local sheriff, first by checking for skeletal remains, looking for tracks of trucks and trailers, and then talking to neighbors in the community to find out if they’ve seen any strange vehicles or people.

Videos at filling stations, fast food places and the like are reviewed to check for out of area or strange vehicles with cattle.

“Crime scene is important, but can be damaged by chasing cattle across tracks, leaving a gate open so remaining cattle wander, or a rain will destroy tracks,” Lothman said.

“It doesn’t have to be somebody from a distance who is the cattle rustler. Sometimes it’s even from the area locale, someone who knows the setup, and patterns of management. Cattle rustling is often done in broad daylight,” Lothman said.

“Branding is still the best way to identify cattle if they are stolen. That can be a hot brand or freeze brand,” the lawman said.

“It’s hard to make a case that cattle are stolen unless there is a clear identification on them,” according to Lothman. Ear notches are not as definite identification.

While locking gates requires time, and is not a complete deterrent to cattle thievery, it makes the process is more difficult.

“Pay attention to strange people and vehicles in an area. Talk to your neighbors, call somebody if you see something out of the ordinary,” Lothman suggested.

“The livestock and brand investigation unit of the Attorney General’s Office responds to requests from local law enforcement agencies for help with cattle theft investigations. Our office currently has 19 open investigations,” said Jennifer Rapp, public information officer for Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Since the unit was started in November 2014, there have been 28 cases opened by the Attorney General’s office.

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