By Janelle Stecklein
OKLAHOMA CITY — Meth addicts hoping for a quick payday are targeting the state’s cattle and costing ranchers millions of dollars, an industry official said Wednesday.
About 90 percent of the state’s cattle thefts are linked to methamphetamine, said Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association.
State Department of Agriculture officials said 650 head of cattle have been reported stolen this year. In 2013, 1,000 head of cattle were reported stolen.
Kelsey spoke to a panel of legislators Wednesday that was discussing problems related to methamphetamine abuse. He noted that heroin addiction also is starting to become a factor in rustling.
The high price of cattle makes them a target for drug users looking for quick money, he said.
“We’re seeing the highest prices in the beef industry that we’ve ever seen,” he said, “so they’re extremely valuable.”
A cow being sold to McDonald’s can get up to $1,200, he said. An 800-pound steer can fetch more than $1,800.
Cows by nature are gentle, independent and thrive on their own in rural environments.
Kelsey said the traits that make them attractive to ranchers also make them targets for thieves, who only need a bag of feed and a pickup truck with a trailer to lure unsuspecting animals from owners who are not nearby.
“If you walk into a pasture and shake a feed sack, you’re going to have some friends real quick,” he said.
After rustling cattle, thieves head to small communities holding weekly sales where they pass off cattle as their own, pocket the proceeds and then disappear, he said.
People running the sales often track license plate numbers and seller information, but that only does so much, he said.
The Cattlemen’s Association encourages its member to frequently change their routines, including how often they check their livestock, to deter thieves.
Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the state’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, told the panel that Oklahomans in the past have spent time manufacturing their drugs in meth labs.
Now, rather than spend 200 hours “cooking” drugs, many addicts find it easier to purchase meth manufactured in Mexico and brought into the state.
“'Ice' is just flooding Oklahoma,” Woodward said. “Now, the new front is what’s coming across the border.”