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North Texas Ranchers Facing New Threat Of Cattle Rustlers

JOHNSON COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) - Ranchers who battled drought in the summer and hay thieves in the fall are now fending off criminals targeting any cattle that are left.

With cattle and beef prices hitting record highs, reports of cattle thefts are ticking up across North Texas. At least three families have been hit this year along the border of Ellis and Johnson counties.

Johnson County Sheriff's Department investigators say 60 cattle have been reported stolen there over the last three months.

Chris Cannon lost 17 last week, including nine, 500-pound, unbranded calves. His neighbor Jim Ratjen has put up $2,000 in reward money for information leading to the thieves who hit his herd.

Across his herds in Tarrant and Dallas counties, James Lockridge estimates he's lost 150 animals dating back through last year.

"Usually by the time a farmer counts his cows, they've already went through the sale barn," Lockridge said. "We made it through everything and now they're stealing my cattle. So, win one way, lose another."

Lockridge, who hired security to protect his hay fields in the summer, now has them watching his cattle. He chased suspected thieves away from a field three-weeks ago. They are often on motorcycles, or off road vehicles he said, and can push 20 cattle into a trailer in just minutes.

With pastures now often surrounded by suburbs instead of other farmers, he said it's rare someone notices anything suspicious about an unfamiliar truck and trailer in a field. He credited police in The Colony with keeping an eye on his herds, but he said the crime is becoming increasingly difficult to stop.

"You're done," he said. "You're never going to get em back. You may catch who did it. You're never going to get the money for them. You're never going to get the cow back. It's a no win situation."

At the Alvarado Veterinary Clinic Dr. Clint Calvert said the word, and concern, is spreading fast among ranchers. He has started encouraging clients to make sure all their animals are branded so they can be identified at the sale barn.  "For the most part a brand is there, it's a permanent ID, it's your mark," he said.

One of his clients, Victoria McCutcheon, lost two calves in the fall. Her fence was never cut. She said it appeared someone just led the animals right off her property.  "We gotta nip this in the bud," she said. "We work hard for this stuff."

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser Association is expected to release more details Wednesday about the extent of the problem. The group has offered up a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

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