As cattle prices reach record levels, the potential for cattle theft across America has risen with them. The increasingly positive economics of so-called ‘cattle rustling’ means the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) retains 30 Special Rangers for the purpose of pursuing the approximately 1,000 such cases that occur annually.
Because Texas does not mandate branding of cattle, rustlers often pursue these type of cattle as they are more difficult to prove stolen. The thefts are often used to fund drug habits, according to Doug Hutchison, one of the TSCRA’s Special Rangers. Numbers for recovery of stolen cattle with brands or markings are around 80% with that number dropping to 35% for unmarked animals.
Although prices are at record levels, the amount of cattle being raised is at its lowest level in 60 years, with some 90 million head of cattle or calves in 2015. Last year’s number of stolen livestock reached almost 5,800, the highest level in five years.
The Special Rangers handled 800 theft cases in 2014, with this year’s statistics looking to be similar. One of the largest recent cases involved a Texas man charged with stealing 544 steers valued at $800,000.
Hutchison’s most effective weapon may be his smartphone, which he uses to photograph livestock at cattle auctions in the search for possible offenders. Rustlers often don’t travel more than 100 miles before attempting to sell their bounty , Hutchison says, “Those thieves are too lazy to work.”
Because the nature of raising cattle involves large plots of land used for the grazing of animals, there can be many opportunities for thieves.
One solution that is well-suited to combating the problem are RFID chip implants for livestock identification. The technology is a dramatic improvement over branding and physical tagging, with some systems capable of reading over 80 RFID tags per minute.