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Cattle theft on the rise in southwestern Missouri

MU Extension holding free branding workshop March 26.


Jason Vance
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9731

Photos available for this release:

Keith Hankins, who farms near Greenfield, Mo., has lost 45 head of cattle to thieves in the last year.

Credit: Emily Kaiser, MU Cooperative Media Group

Keith Hankins, left, talks with MU Extension livestock specialist Eldon Cole about cattle thefts from his farm near Greenfield, Mo.

Credit: Emily Kaiser, MU Cooperative Media Group

Dwain Hughes had 22 head of cattle stolen last November from his farm near Pennsboro, Mo.

Credit: Emily Kaiser, MU Cooperative Media Group

After thieves stole 22 head of cattle, Dwain Hughes has chained and locked all the gates on his farm.

Credit: Emily Kaiser, MU Cooperative Media Group

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Story source:

Eldon Cole, 417-466-3102

GREENFIELD, Mo.– Cattle rustling often brings to mind images of outlaws on horseback running off livestock in the Old West, but cattle theft is still a problem in the 21st century.

In southwestern Missouri, cattle theft is a big problem and is getting worse, according to Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist.

“In the last eight months to a year it really seems to have ramped up,” Cole said.

According to reports from several sheriff’s departments, more than 500 cattle have been stolen in southwestern Missouri during the last year.

Dwain Hughes has been farming near Pennsboro for more than 62 years and had never been a victim of cattle theft until last fall, when 22 head were stolen out of his pasture in the middle of the night.

“It’s a monetary loss, a big loss really,” Hughes said. “When cattle bring over a thousand dollars a head, it doesn’t take a very good mathematician to figure what 22 head would bring on the market.”

Keith Hankins, who farms near Greenfield, has been hit three times in the past year. To add insult to injury, the thieves used his corrals to load, sort and steal his cattle.

“It’s been over 45 head stolen at this location, so that gets to hurting pretty bad,” Hankins said. “If I was solely dependent on my farm income and borrowed funds to operate on, it would be devastating to have that kind of dollar loss.”

Cattle represent a significant investment by the producer. When thieves sell cattle, the money is almost all profit. For the producer, net profit is only a small portion of the sale total, Hankins notes. And those losses have repercussions in the local economy that provides the farmer with goods and services. Thefts also affect the producer’s breeding herd.

“A lot of the cattle we’re raising may be used as replacements for our cow herd, and you can’t get that back the next day,” Hankins said. “Now you’ve got to go through another year or year and a half raising that calf and saving that heifer to replace a cow in your herd.”

The thefts usually take place in the middle of the night, often with stolen trucks and trailers. After the last theft, Hankins’ own trailer was stolen and used in another theft a few miles away.

Rounding up cattle in the dark is not easy and takes more than just one or two people. Cole says these thieves know what they are doing.

Hankins and Hughes have taken to locking gates. That may slow thieves down, but it won’t stop them from cutting the chains or wire fence to get to the cattle.

Thefts continue despite surveillance cameras, night patrols and heightened vigilance by law enforcement.

“Branding is about the biggest deterrent that we can come up with,” Cole said. “The whole point of putting a brand on an animal is that it is the animal’s return address, so its proper place can be found if it’s stolen or lost.”

But only a few thousand of Missouri’s 60,000 operations have registered brands, he said.

MU Extension is holding a free branding workshop on March 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the Jackie Moore Ranch near Mount Vernon.

Cole said both the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and the Missouri Farm Bureau are offering $5,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of cattle thieves.

“And there are several local people who have had cattle stolen that have teamed up and put together a $10,000 reward,” he said.

Anyone who has information or needs to report a theft should contact the Missouri Rural Crimes Task Force at 1-888-484-8477.

For more information about the March 26 branding workshop, go to or call 417-466-3102.