SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- A single bag of feed can bag a lot of cattle. Farmers are fighting back and law enforcement officers are trying to track down rustlers who bring bait.
With the price of cattle feed, it would be nice of someone to drop some by at no charge, but Don LaRue, a farmer in western Greene County, believes it was no act of kindness.
"I got a call from one of the neighbors. He came by and he asked me if I'd fed the cattle. I said no, I hadn't fed them," said LaRue.
He headed out to check on his 50 head of cattle at 10:30 Sunday night.
"Sure enough, somebody had baited them," said LaRue.
LaRue says he had a temporary corral set up. After his neighbor called him, he checked and found the cattle in the corral with bare spots on the ground where they had been fed grain. He immediately took down the corral.
"Yeah, I'm sure they would have been back sometime to try to pick them up," LaRue said.
Neighbor Mike Read says someone stopped by his corral on Sunday or Monday too.
"When I pulled in yesterday, I seen all the gates were shut up on it. And I thought, well, I knew I sure hadn't left it like that," Read said.
Thankfully, Read's cattle were still there, but he can't believe the culprit's daring move, with the pen being right behind an occupied house.
"I thought this is one of the few places we had where it was pretty safe. We're a long ways off the road," said Read.
Investigators say 60 to 80 cattle were stolen in Greene County last year, and they continue to look for the thieves, stopping cattle trailers at night, and working with other agencies.
"Talking to the investigators working the rural crimes, they feel that it's a targeted or organized group that's doing this, because they know what they're doing," said Greene County Sheriff's Lt. Kenny Weatherford.
They encourage farmers to call 911 for anything suspicious.
"You almost have to catch them in the act because, once they're stolen, they can take them out of state or a couple hours away to sell them at an auction," Weatherford said.
Investigators say theives frequently use the farmer's own stock trailer or that of a neighbor to steal cattle.
LaRue and Read both say farmers in their area have recently been victims of cattle theft, and the community of cattlemen is working more than ever to look out for its livelihood.
"I think it's going to get worse, so we're just going to have to have more awareness, and watch out and protect ourself," said LaRue.
Some Greene County farmers are taking advantage of surveillance cameras that can be picked up with a deposit at the Springfield Livestock Marketing Center. The sheriff's office also encourages branding, so stolen cattle can be more easily identified.