The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The souring economy has led to a surge of cattle thefts in Southwest Missouri.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Department has received almost a dozen cattle theft reports since October, and 30 head of cattle have disappeared from nearby Barry County in the past six months.

Among the victims is Chip Porterfield, who said it will take years to recover financially after 10 of his Black Angus cattle were stolen from a farm outside Springfield over the Thanksgiving weekend. The cattle were worth about $10,000.

“That’s a big chunk to try to overcome ... that’s my livelihood,” said Porterfield, of Sparta, who has been cattleman for more than 20 years. “You’re looking at four years to recover from losing 10 cows.”

Jeff Windett, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, said it’s more prevalent in the southwestern part of the state partly because it’s easier for cattle thieves to take their stolen property to nearby Kansas and Arkansas. Also, the area is full of beef cattle.

“With the economic situation that’s going on, there looks to be more desperation to come up with cash,” he said, noting that cows can fetch up to $1,500 based on the breed, weight and quality. Calves range from $400 to $800.

“For a lot of these people who have had these cattle stolen, that represents a significant chunk of their yearly income,” Windett said.

Thieves also typically steal expensive trailers, he said.

For farmers, the thefts also take away their peace of mind.

“The biggest hardship is that you can’t trust leaving your cattle out anymore,” said Ted Rummel of Willard, who had nine cows and one calf — worth about $8,500 — stolen in October.

Authorities with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and the Missouri Cattle Theft Task Force say arresting the thieves is difficult because cattle sales often involve little paperwork and it’s hard to catch thieves in the act.

“The cattle business has been operating on honesty and a handshake for hundreds of years, and a lot of farmers still operate that way,” said Highway Patrol Sgt. Dan Nash, who serves on the Missouri Cattle Theft Task Force. “A lot of people are involved in cattle theft because it’s a lucrative theft. There’s a lot of money in cattle and it’s relatively easy to get rid of them. No paperwork is required.”

Porterfield agreed that the crime is relatively easy because selling a cow at a sale barn typically requires little more than your name, or even a fake one. He said he would favor changing laws to make cattle theft harder but he doesn’t want to inconvenience legitimate farmers.

Windett said the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association has asked state lawmakers to stiffen punishments for cattle theft.

Until then, farmers said they’ll have to keep closer eye on their herds while law enforcement from several counties coordinate to fight the problem.

“We believe that the cattle are moving out of the county, so we’re trying to team up with some other agencies where they might be going,” said Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott. “We’ve been increasing patrols in the areas that have been hit.”

He added that his investigators are tracking down some leads.

Meanwhile, farmers like Porterfield are stuck dealing with the loss. He said he’ll have to hang on to heifers he would normally sell and avoid buying new livestock.

“We won’t be able to purchase anything until we sell our calf crop,” he said

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