MT. VERNON, MO.--- "I basically lost half of our cattle income for this year, and coming off a rough dry year, the price of hay and everything else against us, it really hurts," says Scott Welch, Rancher.
Rancher Scott Welch is the latest victim in a string of cattle thefts across Lawrence and Jasper counties. Lawrence County Sheriff Brad Delay says the loss of the livestock has cost ranchers in his county more than $30,000 in the past two weeks.
"This year, at least through this part of January, we've lost nearly 40 cattle," says Sheriff Brad Delay, Lawrence County.
A recent string of stolen cattle is having a similar impact in Jasper County.
"The owner on these 25, estimated the loss at about $50,000," says Paul Ayres, Detective, Jasper County.
Authorities believe the current high prices of cattle is the reason for the increased activity. Investigators from both departments say thieves are striking in rural areas, under the cover of darkness, and are experienced with handling livestock.
"Whoever the suspects are, are very knowledgeable about cattle, how to work them, how to move them," says Ayres.
To stop the crime, Jasper County Sheriff Deputies are increasing patrols, and checking more cattle haulers, especially at night. Lawrence County is also adding extra patrols and asking local residents to report any suspicious activity.
"If they can grab a license plate, or at the very least, a vehicle description and report that to whatever authority they are closest too," says Sheriff Delay.
Authorities from across Southwest Missouri, and local ranchers will meet together to exchange ideas on how to stop the problem. That meeting will take place on Thursday, February 7th at the MU Extension Research Center in Mt. Vernon.