Texas Crop Weather: Cattle Rustling on the Rise

    Cattle prices continued their upward climb in the past week, according Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service regional reports.

    And as cattle prices continued to be high, the rate of cattle rustling was rising.

    “The rates of cattle theft have been high for a couple of years, but the perception is they have been rising again lately,” said Dr. Jason Banta, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist, Overton.

    Larry Gray, executive director of law enforcement and theft prevention services for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, confirmed this perception.

    “Cattle are a very valuable commodity right now,” Gray said. “And like any other commodity, when the supply goes down, prices go up. We’re beginning to get back into the restocking phase.”

    There are 30 commissioned peace officers who serve as special rangers for the association. The rangers typically investigate about 1,000 agricultural crime cases and recover an average of $5 million in stolen cattle and assets for ranchers annually, Gray said. Among other duties, the special rangers investigate thefts of cattle, horses, saddles, trailers and equipment, along with instances of poaching.

    This year alone, Gray said the association has investigated 405 cases of cattle theft, which constituted a total of 3,974 head.

    The thefts include “cows, yearlings, heifers, calves – all mixtures,” he said.

    One thing that makes cattle rustling easier for thieves is Texas law does not require branding of cattle, Gray said. And many producers, particularly those with smaller operations, do not have resources to brand their animals.

    Cattle theft has continued to increase as market prices have risen in conjunction with the drought, according to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. With a single animal worth from $1,500 to $3,000, cattle rustling nearly always constitutes felony thef t. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Robert Burns)

    Cattle theft has continued to increase as market prices have risen in conjunction with the drought, according to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. With a single animal worth from $1,500 to $3,000, cattle rustling nearly always constitutes felony thef t. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Robert Burns)

    “Thieves love to prey on unbranded cattle. Many times they will pass up branded cattle in lieu of unbranded cattle, because they know they’re hard to identify.”

    Gray said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will not approve implanting of cattle with electronic ID chips because of fears the chips will get into the food supply.

    The most number of head stolen at one time is usually equal to how many the thieves can load in their cattle trailer, he said. But even the theft of one head will usually constitute a felony theft.

    “With a 500-pound calf bringing $3 a pound, that’s $1,500,” Gray said. “And then you’ve got cows, good breed cows, bringing from $2,000 to $3,000.”

    The association offers a cash reward for information leading to the arrest and/or grand jury indictment of thieves, he said. The hotline number is 888-830-2333.

    “Anonymity is guaranteed,” Gray said.

    The association also has a list of cattle and rural crime theft prevention tips here .

    Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    Central: The region remained rainless, but soil moisture was mostly in fair condition. Crops and livestock were rated as good. Rangeland and pastures were also rated as fair, but were declining due to lack of moisture. The corn and grain sorghum harvests continued, with yields widely variable across the region. There were not many suitable days for fieldwork because of the heat. Pecans looked good. Producers continued cutting and baling hay.

    Coastal Bend: Isolated showers in the afternoons brought a little relief from the high temperatures and dusty conditions. In most cases, the occasional afternoon showers were not heavy enough to shut down harvesting. The corn harvest was expected to be mostly completed this week. Cotton growers were beginning to defoliate, and harvesting was expected to begin within the next two weeks. Rice was being harvested. Sorghum yields varied, a result of the spread-out planting.However, some very good yields were recorded. Some producers were shredding weeds on rangeland and pastures due to the wet spring and their inability to spray earlier. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to worsen.

    East: The region remained hot and dry. All counties needed rain. Only a few counties reported topsoil and subsoil moisture as adequate. All others reported short to very short moisture. Pasture grasses were going dormant, and hay production slowed due to lack of growth. Many producers only got one cutting of hay this year. Producers in some areas may be short of winter hay if they don’t get one or two more cuttings by this fall. Producers in Trinity County were already buying hay. Creek and pond levels were dropping. The vegetable, blackberry and blueberry harvests were completed. Some farmers were preparing for fall planting. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplemental feeding being done. Sale barns reported good numbers and solid prices. The market was stronger on heavier steers and heifers. Cow-calf pairs ranged from $2,450 to $2,900. Beef producers were weaning and culling cows. Horn flies continued to be a problem. Grasshopper populations were rising. Feral hog movement increased.

    Far West: Throughout the region, pastures and rangeland were in poor to good condition. For the most part, the region remained extremely hot and very dry, though a few areas did receive scattered showers. Subsoil and topsoil moisture ranged from adequate to short. Cotton was generally in fair condition and setting bolls. Corn and grain sorghum were also mostly in fair condition. Glasscock County cotton was beginning to suffer from the extremely high temperatures and lack of moisture. Dryland fields were reaching cutout, but shedding bolls and leaves due to the heat. Pastures were browning. Pastures and rangeland in Brewster and Jeff Davis counties were beginning to dry out. Cattle were in good condition, with stockers and calves still gaining well. El Paso County cotton was at full bloom and setting bolls. Pecan nuts were growing. Alfalfa growers completed their fourth cutting. Hudspeth County had scattered showers that su rprised some farmers who had hay on the ground. Pecos County had recovered nicely from earlier hailstorm damage, and no yield reductions were expected. In Presidio County, some areas showed pockets of green, but overall pastures and rangeland were starting to turn brown. Upton County had a few spotty showers. Ranchers continued to provide supplemental feed to livestock and wildlife.

    North: Topsoil moisture was short to very short. Temperatures were slightly cooler, with highs in the mid- to upper-90s. Parts of the region have gone 40 days straight without rain, but rain was forecast for the middle of this week. Soybeans were struggling from the hot, dry weather. Corn was mature and was beginning to be harvested in some areas. Grain sorghum was in fair condition, and sunflowers looked good too. Bermuda grass desperately needed rain and was going dormant in some areas. Hay production dropped. Livestock remained in good condition for this time of year. Pond levels were dropping. Most grain and forage sorghum had to be sprayed to control sugarcane aphids. Horn fly problems increased, and grasshopper populations were on the rise. Wild hogs continued to be a problem.

    Panhandle: Much of the region received good soaking rains. Some southern parts of the region needed more moisture. Deaf Smith County producers were dealing with spider mites and Southwestern corn borer, as well as sugarcane aphids in grain sorghum. Where rain wasn’t received, irrigation pumps had to be restarted. Many crops were starting to mature, and silage was nearly ready for harvest. Producers were waiting to plant winter wheat because grasshopper numbers were still increasing. Producers who applied insecticides in hope of controlling the grasshoppers in corn and grain sorghum fields were seeing only limited success. Hay harvesting continued. Cotton was setting bolls at a good rate in the more southern counties of the region. Some dryland grain sorghum and cotton had spotty stands, but most fields were in good shape. Weeds were a problem in many areas. Pastures were in excellent condition, and cattle healthy. Wildlife were rebounding from the drought in the eastern part of the district.

    Rolling Plains: Hot, dry weather continued, which accumulated heat units for cotton. Cotton plants were loaded with bolls, but rain was needed soon or the plants could start shedding fruit. Earlier rains had given rangeland and pasture grasses the moisture they needed to produce, but with dry weather, growth slowed down. If it remains dry for the next few weeks, there could be an outbreak of wildfires, especially in areas that have not been grazed off and have an abundance of dry fuel. Livestock were still in good condition, and ranchers needed only to provide small amounts of supplemental feed. Many producers began restocking herds by buying cattle or keeping heifers. Most producers had plenty of surface water. The pecan crop still looked good, but non-irrigated orchards needed moisture.

    South: The region remained mostly hot and dry, with a few isolated showers. In the northern part of the region, soil moisture was short to very short. The corn and grain sorghum harvests were completed. Cotton was opening bolls. Peanuts were in good condition and setting pods under continued irrigation. In some areas, rangeland and pastures continued to decline due to the lack of rain. In McMullen County, rangeland and pastures were in fair shape. Ranchers were providing supplemental feed, with some ranchers weaning calves early. In the eastern part of the region, soil moisture was short in Duval and Jim Hogg counties. In Jim Wells, Kleberg and Kenedy counties, subsoil moisture was generally adequate, while topsoil moisture was 50 percent short. Harvesting of corn and sorghum crops planted by April 15 was complete in Jim Wells County, while later-planted grain and sorghum crops were just turning color. Cotton looked good t hroughout the eastern counties. In the western part of the region, non-grazed pastures remained in fair condition, but those that had been grazed were exhausted. Pecans looked good with no major insect pressure. Coastal Bermuda grass harvesting was good, with hay sales moving slowly. Cotton continued to progress well with the help of additional irrigation. Soil moisture was short to very short throughout the western counties. In the southern part of the region, extremely hot temperatures continued. About a third of Cameron County cotton was harvested. In Hidalgo County, cotton defoliation picked up momentum, as well as harvesting. In Starr County, hay baling continued, and fall vegetable planting preparations began. Cameron County had short soil moisture, while Hidalgo County subsoil and topsoil moisture was 100 percent adequate. Starr County soil moisture was mostly adequate. Cattle body condition scores were fair with no supplemental feeding.

    South Plains: High daytime temperatures benefited cotton but stressed other crops. In Floyd County, cotton was finally blooming and setting bolls. Some began drying down and should be ready to cut in a week or so. Hale County received scattered showers, which benefited crops, but heat stress continued to take its toll on livestock. Bailey County also received scattered showers at the first of the week, but needed more as soil moisture was becoming depleted. Cochran County producers were irrigating. Cotton, peas, corn, peanuts, sunflowers and grain sorghum continued to mature. Hockley County received some moisture over the weekend, which gave dryland cotton a boost. Corn there was in good shape, and pastures benefitted from sporadic showers. Lubbock County had another week of hot weather, with highs of 100 degrees on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14. Only isolated areas of the county received showers, and rainfall thus far for August was 0.01 inch. Non-irrigated cotton and fields with limited irrigation reached cut-out. Non-irrigated sorghum planted late was under severe stress. Several grain sorghum fields exceeded the economic threshold for treating sugarcane aphids. In Garza County, irrigated cotton continued to progress well and more cotton began to bloom. Dryland cotton needed rain. Mitchell County cotton put on more bolls. The rangeland was declining. With high heat and low humidity, fire danger increased. Some Scurry County cotton needed rain 10 days ago and was struggling then.

    Southeast: Soil moisture throughout the region was mostly adequate to short, with short being the most common. Rangeland and pasture were mostly rated fair to poor, with poor ratings being the most common. Walker County received scattered showers, but subsoil moisture was still a concern. Forage growth, production and harvest were greatly reduced. In Brazos County, the hot and dry conditions continued, but scattered thunderstorms were popping up in the evenings. Montgomery County had a few isolated showers in midweek. In Waller County, temperatures were in the triple-digits. Corn harvesting began. In Chambers County, the maturity of rice planting had been so spread out it was hard to get a good estimate of the crop’s current progress. There was a lot more organic rice planted this year, with most of it planted late. Fort Bend County got 1 inch to 2 inches of rain. The grain sorghum and corn harvests were nearly completed, and some producers expected to soon begin defoliating cotton. Livestock were in good condition. Galveston County continued to suffer drought conditions and record high heat.

    Southwest: The region was hot and dry and in need of rain. The biggest concern was the high possibility of wildfire because of the dry conditions. Fire already had broken out in some areas and some burn bans remained in place. Some farmers were preparing to plant small grain in dry conditions, what’s known as “dusting in.” Cotton was starting to show significant signs of root rot in some areas. The grain sorghum and corn harvests were mostly finished, with mostly good yields. Problems with stomach worms in sheep and goats were ongoing. There was plenty of dry grass for livestock grazing.

    West Central: Triple-digit temperatures continued throughout the region. The heat, along with high winds, was rapidly depleting soil moisture. A few areas received scattered showers near the end of the week. Crops were beginning to show signs of heat and moisture stress, but most fields remained in fair condition. Drought was taking a toll on cotton. Grain sorghum fields were being cut. Producers were able to get a second cutting of hay due to earlier summer rains and hoped to get a third. Grasshoppers continued to be an issue. Rangeland and pastures were also showing heat and moisture stress. The danger of wildfire continued to increase, and burn bans were reinstated. Pond and livestock tank levels were dropping. Livestock remained in fair to good condition.

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