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Cattle rustling is known as the act of stealing cattle without the consent of the owner. The act of cattle rustling may be pictured as cowboys on horseback sneaking away with a herd of cattle in the dead of night and may seem archaic, but this unfortunately still occurs today. Cattle are docile, high-value assets that are easy to transport, making them an effortless target for thieves.

In the American frontier, cattle theft often occurred in the Wild West cowboy days and was considered a serious offense that often resulted in significant consequences - even death. Oftentimes, it is not a whole herd of cattle that get stolen, but a few here and there that often go unnoticed for a long period of time.

Cattle theft is still a modern day issue.


According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture livestock inspection and predator control programs manager, Rodger Huffman, “Few cattle thieves these days ever stand trial.” ( Huffman had stated in the article that cattle theft commonly occurs when a cow finds its way out of its pasture and then makes its way onto a neighbor's property. The neighbor often keeps that cow to raise calves, for breeding purposes or may sell the cow at an auction. Unlike other stolen property, cattle are a unique asset as they can typically be sold at full value at a livestock auction.

Those who have cattle operations in rural, remote areas typically leave their cattle to feed in wide-open, unfenced pastures and are unable to consistently watch over their herd. This leaves them susceptible to cattle theft due to the small amount of surveillance.

Ranchers with larger cattle operations may not know the exact number of cows that they have as it can be a pesky task to count each head of cattle. If one, ten, or twenty of their 300+ cattle herd go missing or get stolen, they may not become aware for quite some time or until they move the cattle out of that pasture. The longer a missing animal goes unseen, the more challenging it is to track it down.


Physical cattle theft is not the only type of theft that ranchers across the country are subject to. Paper fraud schemes are becoming a more modern type of cattle theft in the industry. Individuals may falsify records or submit fake invoices to gain profits from nonexistent livestock. Those who commit cattle fraud often target investors and make promises that they will do business with them and purchase cattle from them in the future. They will then use the money to cover their other investments or unpaid debts. This leaves producers and the industry, at a large loss.

A prevalent example of paper fraud in the cattle industry right now is the Tyson Foods $244 million ghost cattle scam. To summarize an article from The U.S. Department of Justice, a man from Washington state, Cody Easterday used his company to launch a sequence of agreements with the Tyson Foods company and another a secondary company stating that he would purchase and raise cattle on behalf of both companies. These two companies fronted Easterday the funds needed to obtain the cattle and raise them. Easterday would then pay them back the funds that were borrowed to him after the cows were brought to the market and would be able to profit from the remaining income. This did not happen. Easterday and others involved submitted false and fraudulent documents and invoices to Tyson and the secondary company stating that he had purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cattle along with supplies needed to raise said animals. These animals did not exist and Easterday used the funds for his own personal advantages and to cover his other debts and investments. After years of this scam occurring, Easterday was finally caught and plead guilty and is left paying over $244 million dollars in restitution for his acts and will later be sentenced to jail time.


Livestock theft results in the loss of millions of dollars to ranchers across the country. As cattle prices continue to increase, they become more attractive to thieves as they are aware of the payout. It continues to be a prevalent threat throughout the industry and takes a toll on producers as cattle are their livelihood that they care very deeply for.

Ranchers can minimize the likelihood of cattle theft occurring by maintaining all fences, gates, and locking devices in proper condition to prevent thieves from entering their property. Proper identification is also a great way to prevent the occurrence of animal theft. Branding and tagging your animals make them easier to identify and allows ranchers to claim them as their own if they were to ever get lost or stolen.