Courts & Crime

Cattle rustling a problem in Merced, California

Cattle rustling may be a staple of Western movies and television, but in the Merced and Mariposa areas, it's still an old-fashioned problem.

More than 1,700 head of cattle were reported missing in California in 2010, compared with 1,300 in 2009. And the trend doesn't seem to be changing.

"Prices are up, and in a lot of cases, the cattle are pastured where there are no people around," said Cathy Boze, agricultural commissioner for Mariposa County.

In Merced County, there have been two reports of missing cattle this year, according to Tom Mac-Kenzie, spokesman for the Merced County Sheriff's Department.

In June 2009, beef cattle going to slaughter averaged about 82 cents per pound of live weight. In March of this year, that price went up to $1.16 a pound, a jump of more than 40 percent in less than two years, making rustling a lucrative form of theft.

"Last year we had three incidents of theft," MacKenzie said. In at least two of those, more than a dozen cattle were reported missing.

Between tough times and the higher prices for beef, cattle in remote foothill pastures are tempting to many thieves. Boze said she urges people to keep an eye out for any unusual vehicles or activity. "It's not hard for these guys to steal cows," Boze said. "They just come with a stock trailer and load them up."

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