With the price of cattle at an all-time high, area farmers and ranchers could see an increase in cattle thefts, said Anthony Ruiz, livestock production agent for the Central Kansas Extension District.

“There is always going to be a contingency of people that are looking to make a quick buck in rural Kansas, which most of Kansas is,” Ruiz said. “There are cattle there, and to some people that is going to be a quick $100 or $1,000.”

The Farmers & Ranchers Livestock Commission’s market report in late November had steers selling for between $1,300 and $2,000.

“Right now we are looking at record prices,” Ruiz said. “That’s a lot of money.”

Cheyenne County Sheriff Cody Beeson said he is investigating the theft of 12 to 14 recently weaned Black Angus bulls and heifers. The cattle were reported missing Nov. 19 from a ranch south of Wheeler owned by David Ritter.

The cattle, each with a yellow tag in the left ear, were in a pen with other cattle.

“It was a quick grab-and-go,” Beeson said.

The cattle were valued at an estimated $20,000.

Beeson advised ranchers to beef up security.

Another incident

It wasn’t the only recent incident involving cattle.

On Sept. 23, someone illegally dumped a load of cowhides in the 2600 block of Mohawk Road, north of Canton. Capt. Doug Anderson, of the McPherson County Sheriff’s Office, said several leads have been pursued.

“They haven’t panned out,” he said. “We don’t have any cattle missing.”

Ruiz said the hides could indicate the cattle were stolen.

“But that isn’t your run-of-the-mill rustler,” he said. “That’s a pretty sizable chunk of meat. ... That’s taking it to a whole new level. Most people would want to take it to the sale barn, get quick cash and be gone.”

Branding advised

Ruiz advises ranchers to register a brand and brand the cattle, making it more difficult to sell stolen cattle by simply removing an ear identification. That would require thieves to remove the cowhides.

However, Mike Samples, manager of Farmers & Ranchers Livestock of Salina, said brands are not checked in Saline County. He said, though, that he will report cattle theft.

“If people inform us, we keep an eye out. If there is something suspicious, we try to curtail it,” he said. “We try to do everything we can.”

Change routines

Ruiz said ranchers should change their routines and not feed at the same time so potential thieves can’t take advantage of a schedule.

“Another thing is to install some deer cameras,” he said. “Take a look at who’s coming onto your property. Any way you can be vigilant to know what’s going on at your operation when you’re not there will help.”

Cattle numbers down

Ruiz said the cow herd nationwide is as small as it has been since the 1960s, which is driving up prices.

He said there are a couple of reasons for the drop in numbers.

“We have become so much more effective in producing pounds,” Ruiz said. “We have better genetics. We have larger calves at weaning time. We have all these technological advances, and at the end of the day we have fewer and fewer actual heads of mom cows producing calves.”

Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas also have been dealing with drought for several years.

“This year, we experienced an almost national drought,” Ruiz said. “Out west they got really dry and they had to ship cows.”

He said the agriculture census shows there were 24,578 head of cattle in Saline County in 2012 compared with 34,581 head in 2007. In Ottawa County, there were 41,602 head of cattle in 2012, compared with 48,787 in 2007.

Tim Horan is a reporter at the Salina Journal. Email him at thoran@salina.com.