ABILENE, Texas - According to the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association reports of cattle rustling in Texas have increased 40 percent in the last year.
Lonnie McAnulty has been a brand inspector for about 4 years. He said lately it's not uncommon to see a stolen cow at the livestock auction.
"Like anything else, the economy, once it starts getting real bad a lot of cattle do start missing we try to keep up on them as much as we can and catch as many as we can," said McAnulty.
What's causing the increase in cattle rustling? Because of the drought, the US cattle herd is at it's lowest since the 1950s. That makes the remaining cattle literally cash cows.
"Prices are higher than I've ever seen them here right now and that makes it easy you know somebody needs money they can steal a calf and get a lot of money out of it," said Abilene Livestock Auction owner Randy Carson
"Right now bulls are real high bulls are anywhere from a dollar a pound and up to some of these bulls that are 2,000 pounds you're looking at 20something-hundred dollars," McAnulty said.
Carson said the problem is most common for ranchers with multiple plots of land. He said the problem is not as bad in Taylor County.
"In this country right now there's a lot of absentee owners, people that live in Dallas/ Fort Worth or Houston, they own ranches out here, they don't get out to their ranches but maybe once every two weeks, maybe not even that much and they don't keep up with their head count," said Carson.
There are some precautions ranchers can take like locking their gates, counting cattle as often as possible and branding them.
"If you want to keep track of your cattle, definitely put a brand on them, definitely earmark them," said McAnulty.
Texas lawmakers increased penalties for cattle rustling in 2009. It is now a third degree felony and punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.