Cattle Rustling in Central Valley

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
(nat sound # 3-mooing at cow pen fade and hold) The Manuel Morris and Sons Dairy Farm near Modesto was raided by cattle thieves this past summer. (fade in nat sound # 2) Detective Erin Kiely of the Stanislaus County Rural Crime Task Force, investigated the incident. (nat sound # 2 bring up latch lifted) He says the culprits were able to steal four Holstein calves by simply lifting latches on the pens.   (SB # 13—KIELY :13)—Sometimes they’ll carry them over their shoulder. Sometimes they’ll walk them along. Ultimately whether they carry them or lead them, they’ll take them to a vehicle. They seem to prefer cars because they’ll stuff them in the trunk. Then they’re down the road.   (fade out nat sound # 3) Kiely says cattle thefts have been rising fast. Statewide, they’ve jumped 13 percent in a single year. And he says its dairy, not beef cattle, that thieves are after.   (SB # 1—KIELY :13)—It is in our county and it is throughout the Central Valley counties where the diary industry is prevalent. It seems to have been increasing with the price of the dairy animals in the last few years.   There’s a ready black market for the animals. Few, if any questions are asked. Transactions are cash only. Kiely says calves are a favorite target not only because they’re easy to transport, but they’re worth their weight in gold or just about.   (SB # 4—KIELY :08)—I’ve seen them fluxuate from 300 to 600 dollars in value. Right now I’d say they’re somewhere between 450 to 500 dollars per animal.   Michael Marsh of the Modesto-based Western United Dairymen Association says when a calf is stolen, the farmer not only loses the value of the animal, but its potential milk output too.   (SB # 11--MARSH :10)—The average in the state is right around 20 to 21 thousand pounds of milk per year. We’ve got some producers that will actually produce 30 thousand pounds of milk per year.   Even when milk prices are low that translates into thousands of dollars per cow.   Some farmers believe thieves are gravitating to cattle, in part, because of America’s latest diet craze. Marsh says dairy operators have mixed emotions about the low carb, high protein menus that feature milk and cheese.   (SB # 12 MARSH :08)—That of course is good news for producers, but it does provide additional incentive for someone out there who wants to go and steal somebody else’s livelihood.   Detective Kiely recommends branding as a way to deter thieves.  (SB # 5 KIELY :10)—That’s something that we try to promote is people branding their animals, just because we know from first hand experience that it’s a very effective way to prevent theft and help us identify animals.   Dairy operators are reluctant to brand for fear of raising the ire of animal rights activists. Unlike the frontier days, rustlers are no longer hanged. But thieves usually go to jail if caught. The Rural Crime Task Force tracked down the two culprits who stole the four calves from the Morris Farm this summer. Both men are currently serving nine-month sentences. Bob Hensley KXJZ News.