Around 30 head of cattle have been stolen from farms located in the northeast portion of Barry County over the last year, said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly. Several additional cattle have been taken from properties located in the adjoining part of Lawrence County.
"In Lawrence County, one and a half miles north of the county line, they had 41 head of cattle stolen last week," said Epperly. "This is putting a major burden on area farmers who are struggling to get by right now."
In an effort to combat the increasing number of cattle thefts, several Missouri organizations have formed taskforces dedicated to investigating these crimes.
"I've asked my investigators to get with Lawrence County investigators and sit down for a discussion," said Epperly. "They need to go over these cases, share evidence and look at how these cattle are being stolen and how often."
Epperly said that the Barry and Lawrence county sheriff's departments will invite the Missouri State Highway Patrol's cattle theft task force to participate in these discussions.
"When different law enforcement agencies come together on something like this, it really helps," said Epperly. "I've also asked Crimestoppers to put out information on these crimes."
For now, Epperly is asking area producers to watch out for each other and help protect their cattle by changing feeding routines.
"We are doing extra patrols in the northeast part of the county and stopping stock trailers," said Epperly. "We especially look for someone who is moving cattle late at night or early in the morning. That is a red flag.
"We hope area farmers will watch for suspicious activity," said Epperly. "We ask people to call if they see trailers moving late at night. It's always good if they can get a tag number, but it is also helpful to report where they saw the trailer and a description."
Epperly said one issue that is hindering the investigation of recent cattle thefts is the fact that crimes are often committed on land that is not located near a residence. Criminals have even damaged property and cut fences in order to steal cattle in remote locations.
"The thefts are often committed in areas where there is not a house within sight," said Epperly. "They seem to target those areas."
Some area producers have joined together to form watch groups that take turns watching property that is not located near a home.
"Branding is always a good idea," said Epperly. "I know many of our smaller producers can't do branding, but this is a sure way to track an animal back to a farmer. It has been a sure form of identification for decades."
Epperly said he believes recent cattle thefts are directly related to a depressed economy.
"The people who are stealing these cattle are receiving 100 percent profit right now," said Epperly, "We will catch them and they will face quite a penalty."