Cattle rustling on the rise as U.S. recession bites

Wed May 20, 2009 7:22pm EDT
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By Matthew Bigg

TROY, Alabama (Reuters) - When Chrissy and Benny Pinckard woke one morning in March on their small farm in Alabama to find two prized bulls stolen they were distraught.

They were also a statistic.

Cattle ranching is a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States and cattle theft is a small but growing problem as a recession bites and thieves realize that stealing cows is a relatively easy way to raise a quick buck.

Stolen cattle are often loaded onto trailers and taken straight from their farm or ranch to auction at a stockyard, according to detectives involved in tracking thefts.

Identifying those cattle not easy since many are not branded and detectives and owners need to act fast to retrieve the animals before sale -- a task made doubly difficult if they have been transported across state lines.

Texas, the nation's biggest cattle state, reported thefts virtually tripled between 2007 and 2008 to 6,404 head of cattle, according to Carmen Fenton, spokeswoman for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

But the numbers probably underestimate the problem which is sufficiently serious for the association to have its own rangers working alongside government law enforcement agencies, Fenton said.

Texas has 13.8 million head of cattle which contribute $15 billion to the state's economy. The state legislature passed a bill in May raising the maximum penalty for livestock theft from two to 10 years in prison, comparable to other states.   Continued...

<p>Farmer Benny Pinckard feeds four Brahman bulls on his land in Troy, Alabama, April 24, 2009. REUTERS/Matthew Bigg</p>