By Gregory A. Hall
Cattle rustling, an old crime more associated with Western movies and stories from frontier days, is increasing in Kentucky, cattlemen say, as record prices entice thieves in the biggest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi River.
Lincoln County farmer Boyd Coleman lost about $30,000 worth of cattle this year in a recent theft. That doesn't count the $15,000 a year he'd have received from selling the cow's offspring in future years.
"I've lost income for years down the road," he said.
About a half dozen incidents have been reported in Lincoln County since May, said Dan Grigson, the agricultural agent there for the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension.
Grigson said the recent level of thefts is far worse than the one or two annual cases he'd typically hear about over the past 25 years.
"Farmers are constantly having things stolen — tools, chainsaws, four-wheelers — that's been going on for 10 years pretty heavy," Grigson said. "... It's gone to the next level when you start taking cows."
There's no central collection of cattle theft statistics in Kentucky, and rustling sometimes goes unreported because in small numbers it could be attributed to an animal wandering off. But word spreads among cattle farmers when the numbers are larger.
Steve Downs, a Marion County cattleman and president of the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association, said he heard about a theft over the weekend in neighboring Washington County where six steers and mature Angus bull were stolen.
"It's getting too close to home over here," he said.
Cattle industry officials say the the historic prices make rustling a threat that producers would do well not to ignore.
"Prices are so high that (rustling) is something farmers should be aware of, especially those that live a distance from their cattle or have cattle in places that are easy for someone to get in and out of," said UK agricultural economist Kenny Burdine, who specializes in livestock.