More efforts made to restrict cattle thievery
It was standing room only at the Southwest Missouri Research Center in Mt. Vernon on Thursday, Feb. 7, as farmers and ranchers from all over the southwest Missouri region gathered to address the issue of cattle thefts.
Members of several county law enforcement agencies were on hand, as well as the Missouri State Highway Patrol rural crimes task force, area prosecuting attorneys and Eldon Cole, livestock specialist from the Missouri University Extension.
Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay opened his remarks by stating there had been a recent resurgence of cattle thefts in Lawrence County since January.
"County agencies don't have unlimited resources," DeLay said. "We are asking for your help, your eyes and your boots on the ground."
DeLay said nine area sheriff's offices have joined forces to form a task force to share information and leads on the continuing thefts that are plaguing farmers and destroying their livelihoods.
"Where typically, we would have gotten one or two tips in the past, we've had three dozen tips since January," DeLay said. "If you are seeing anything suspicious, report it.
"These people are well-versed in what they are doing," he continued. "We're stopping every trailer that goes through here after dark to make sure someone is not making off with your cattle."
DeLay said thieves were using stolen trucks, tags and trailers in their operations. Thieves are also scouting properties they plan to target several days in advance and evidence pointed toward rustlers luring cattle to the corrals with feed.
"Cattle are used to trucks and people," he said. "When they see a truck, that means it's dinner time."
Tonto Kissee, of Springfield Regional Stockyards, urged cattle producers to use concealed infrared wildlife cameras to capture license plate numbers and descriptions of people and vehicles.
"We have a program through Macs Vet Supply, in Springfield, where you can rent wildlife cameras," Kissee said. "That information is kept anonymous. Only one person has access to it. But that program seems to have deterred a lot of cattle thefts in Greene County."
Kissee said organizers of the camera-lending program are looking to expand into other counties in southwest Missouri.
"It's a great program," Kissee said. "We just need more money to expand it."
Kissee also said any vehicle that enters Springfield Livestock's property, unloaded, and anyone who came to his office to receive a check was photographed.
"Just yesterday, we unloaded 326 trailers," Kissee said. "We know our customers, and we take down license plate information from people we don't know or vehicles with out-of-state tags."
Detective Mike Madewell said investigators were going to compile records from last year to see if any patterns can be found.
"So far, we know they are hitting farms along state highways," Madewell said, "and they're doing it during the full moon, a prime time to work without lights.
"Right now, they aren't moving too much," he continued. "It's muddy and they don't want to take the chance of getting stuck. If they do get stuck, they walk away or burn vehicles to avoid detection."
Madewell said thieves were sometimes striking within a hundred feet of people's homes.
"With windows closed and furnaces running, they don't hear what's going on outside," he said. "They're using your corral set-ups to load them. Take your cattle panels and corrals down. Don't make it easy for them.
"We've had reports of tags, tape and glow-sticks placed on fences," Madewell said. "If you see something suspicious on your fence, give us a call."
"Law enforcement agencies are working together and doing what we can," DeLay said. "If you see something, let us know. That's information that we don't have, and without basic information, we have nowhere to go."
Cole reminded cattlemen that branding was still a good deterrent to thievery.
"It's cheaper than insurance and it will help in your overall marketing scheme," Cole said.
"We have to take care of each other, our neighbors and friends," DeLay said. "Look out for each other and make sure to report any suspicious activity."
To report ag-related crimes, call 888-484-8477; the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office at 417-466-2131; or the Barry County Sheriff at 417-847-6556.