By Jeff Jardine
Cattle rustling sounds so, well, Old West.
It seemed so simple, so B-movie Western back then: Assemble a posse, catch the perps red-handed with the hoofed contraband, get a rope, find a tree and have a necktie party.
This is the New West, though. Nobody steals cattle anymore, right?
Wrong, as evidenced by the theft last week of 16 replacement heifer calves, a month old and weighing 80 pounds each, from a dairy near Hilmar. Thieves hit the same dairy for 10 calves exactly two weeks earlier. Both thefts happened overnight, between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m.
Wrong, as the report of 259 cattle stolen from a Denair dairy a year ago would suggest. Owners told authorities they discovered the losses only during a head count at the end of the month and couldn't say when or how the animals disappeared.
Wrong, as one West Side rancher can attest. Several years ago, he reported his bull missing from his pasture. Brand inspections and rural crimes detectives swung into action, with no luck.
Then, a funny thing happened: The bull mysteriously reappeared in the field at the end of the breeding season. Someone "borrowed" the bull to service the cows and then returned it to its owner to feed the rest of the year.
True, cattle theft isn't as prevalent as, say, auto theft. Rural crimes detectives spend far more of their time chasing marijuana growers in the fields and orchards, and thugs who steal equipment and sell it for scrap. But with a value of $1,000 per calf, livestock theft is costly.
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said his rural crimes investigator is working only one cattle theft case involving only a couple of head.
Dan Levin, a rural crimes detective in San Joaquin County, moved into that duty a year ago and knows of only two cattle cases in that time — a cow stolen from a dairy in Manteca and six Jersey replacement heifers from a dairy near Galt. More....