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Producers report rustling on the rise in Idaho

Kathleen McKevitt Published on 28 April 2011

0711pd_mckevitt_1“It used to be just the four-legged predators; now it’s the ‘two-leggeds,’” said Idaho State Brand Inspection Chief Larry Hayhurst at a meeting between law enforcement officers and cattle owners in Ola, Idaho, in early April.

More than 120 cattle owners gathered to discuss the possibilities for curbing the rapid growth of cattle rustling.

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Already this year, more than 200 cows have gone missing from grazing land and dairy farms in the four-county area of western Idaho, including Washington, Ada, Valley and Canyon counties.

Last year, more than 2,000 dairy and range cattle were taken between the end of 2009 and 2010 in the same region, Hayhurst said.

“It’s a bad start to the year,” voiced one cattle owner.

Tom Blessinger, the meeting’s organizer, said that at today’s beef prices, the loss from stolen cattle could be as much as $2,000 per cow.

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Blessinger, a rancher in the Ola/Sweet area, called the meeting and brought in Larry Hayhurst and members of his team, including USDA Forest Service Patrol Captain Breck Young, USDA Investigator Curt Miller and Idaho Brand Office Investigator Lynn Gibson.

Representatives from the Gem, Washington and other surrounding county sheriffs’ offices were also in attendance.

Investigators reported at the meeting that most cattle go missing between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. Hayhurst suggested people start being more watchful.

“Recently, we were part of a major sting operation that is still unfolding,” Hayhurst said. “The perpetrators are getting more and more creative.

They’re coming from poor economic conditions or are part of drug cartels, or both.” Hayhurst said the rustlers have been using stripped-down mini-vans or a horse-trailer to transport the stolen cattle.

“Watch out for trailers that shouldn’t be near your property,” Hayhurst said. “We used to think one microchip in a cow would do the trick (lead investigators to stolen property), but now, they can put in another one that cancels out the one we put in.”

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State brand department inspectors urged producers to take and use its observation notices.

The leaflet says simply, “This is not a ticket. It is to let you know we have observed your vehicle in this area.” Idaho State Police ask cattle ranchers and dairy farmers to use the notices if they see an unusual vehicle near their farm or pasture. Producers send the original leaflet to the Idaho State Police and keep the carbon copy.

Enforcement agencies also urged producers to inform their employees to be more watchful for unauthorized visitors near their animals or of suspicious activity near their property.

“Make sure all your animals are branded and that you keep good records; watch for people selling meat on the corners of small towns; talk to your neighbors; watch who is visiting on your properties and remember that as long as illegal drug trafficking and a poor economy are playing out, loss of livestock is going to be a problem for all of us.” PD

To receive an observation notice booklet, contact the Idaho State Police Brand Office at (800) 772-8442 .

Kathleen McKevitt is a freelance writer based in Jerome, Idaho.

TOP RIGHT: Larry Hayhurst, head of the ISP Brand Office, leads a meeting on cattle rustling in Idaho. Photos coutesy Kathleen McKevitt, Ag Writer/Writelife.

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