By AMY BICKEL

Special to The Hays Daily News

HUTCHINSON -- The frontier has changed from the days when it was a hanging offense to steal cattle.

Yet the bounty is still the same for modern cattle rustlers, who have traded in their horses for big trucks as they steal thousands of dollars worth of loot by way of beef.

With cattle prices at highs, thieves are eyeing Kansas cattle. On Friday, Kingman County Sheriff's officials reported five longhorn cows and a bull -- worth at least $10,000 -- were taken from a pasture in the southeast part of the county. Earlier in the week, a Reno County producer reported four 600-pound calves stolen from property.

"It's all attributed to that cattle prices are at a premium now nationwide. Producers are getting more per head," said Dustin Cooke, an investigator with the Kingman County Sheriff's Department.

The Kingman investigation is ongoing. Cooke said it was a definite theft, based on evidence found at the scene.

Pat Schumaker, Kansas brand recorder for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said she has been sending out more reports regarding missing livestock in the past two months. But she added she couldn't attribute it to an increase in theft.

Still, KDA reports show theft incidents continue across Kansas. Near Sylvan Grove, a rancher reported earlier this month two black Angus cows and two calves stolen. It was reported as a "definite theft" due to evidence at the scene.

Meanwhile, around Thanksgiving, a Cheyenne County producer reported a "definite theft" of 12 9-month-old calves stolen on his St. Francis-area property. A few days before that, in Sumner County, rustlers took a dozen 8-month-old steers and heifers. According to the state, tracks were found and wires cut.

The department also reported two steers either strayed or were stolen from Marion County in November, as well as eight cow/calf pairs near Beloit.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Market News Service in Dodge City, cattle are still trading high despite a small dip in prices. Roughly 700-pound feeder steers in Dodge City were $3 to $5 lower -- trading for roughly $236.52 a hundredweight. A year ago, cattle were trading for $170 to $175 a hundredweight.

Meanwhile, calves with an average weight of 522 pounds were selling for approximately $299 a hundredweight. A year ago, they averaged $200 a hundredweight.