Around 50 head of cattle have been stolen in Barry County this year, said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly.
"There has been an increase in cattle rustling over the last year, probably due to the high price of cattle," said Epperly.
Cattle rustlers have made off with high-priced animals in Christian, Barry, Lawrence, Greene, Polk, Dade and Cedar counties this year.
Many times the thieves snip through wire fences and drive onto a farmer's land in order to lure cattle into a stock trailer. Investigators believe the cul-prits then drop the cattle onto land that is several counties away and hold them for up to six months before selling them.
"We are working on meeting with different counties and going over how to handle the rustling," said Epperly. "We are also stopping trailers late at night and early in the morning to verify where they are going and what they are doing."
Epperly said farmers can help combat the increase in cattle rustling by changing their routines and watching out for neighbors.
"We all get into a routine of checking our cattle the same time of day," said Epperly. "We need to change our pattern so someone doesn't pick up on that routine.
"Neighbors watching neigh-bors is also helpful," said Epperly. "If you see a suspicious person, contact your neighbor and the sheriff's department. It is better to make that phone call."
Cattle branding identi-fication is on an increase in southwest Missouri to detour rustlers.
"If cattle prices stay where they are, it is a good practice to have a registered brand," said Epperly. "Ear tags are easy to clip out."
Although brands entail extra work, Barry County University of Extension dairy specialist Tony Rickard agrees it is a good way to stop rustling.
"If more cattle were branded, there would be a lot less rustling in this area," said Rickard. "It is a sure fire way to prove owner-ship."
Although branding lowers the mar-ketability of cattle hides, it is the only identification that will stand up in court, said Rickard.
Brands must be recorded with the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Recording a brand costs $35. The brand must be at least three inches high and two characters long.
"You can register on-line or pick the forms up at my office," said Rickard. "It is a nominal price, and if the price of cattle stays where it is, rustling will continue to be a problem."
Epperly hopes area livestock marketers will begin to be more vigilant about who brings cattle to the auction.
"Our local stock markets know many of the cattle owners," said Epperly, "but I hope they will begin to check the ones that they are suspicious of."
For more information on registering a cattle brand, call the Barry County Extension office at 847-3161.