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Cattle theft, and prevention, go high-tech

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Cattle theft, and prevention, go high-tech

Crime remains common and costs ranchers thousands

Livestock theft is one of the oldest crimes in South Dakota, but the ways thieves operate and the methods ranchers and authorities use to catch them have both evolved into a high-tech battle of wits.

Modern trailers, cell phones, forged checks, online mapping and internet classified sales sites are part of the arsenal livestock thieves use to locate, steal and sell cattle, sheep and hogs.

But ranchers and authorities are using unmanned game cameras, surveillance video, DNA testing and online databases to thwart the thieves.

Big money and serious charges can be at stake. In July, a Wagner man was charged with stealing cattle valued at more than $300,000 and embezzling nearly $50,000 in feed checks between February and August of this year. Aaron Podzimek, 41, faces two felony counts in the case, according to court records.

Livestock theft remains a constant concern for farmers and ranchers who face the unenviable business practice of having hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory walking about in roadside pastures often protected by little more than a barbed-wire fence.

While some cattle thefts go uncounted – producers may not report them or assume the animals wandered off and weren’t stolen – data from the South Dakota State Brand Board show the practice remains fairly common. The brand board has a database on its website where missing cattle are listed monthly with descriptions of the animals, last known location, details on the brand logo if any, and contact information for the rightful owner.

The list, which includes livestock that may be missing or stolen, included 63 incidents with 698 animals reported missing from January 2017 through July 2018. Some of those animals were later found and returned to their owners, but many were not.

“It’s still prevalent,” said Debbie Trapp, director of the state brand board. “It’s been pretty consistent with the smaller theft cases, a horse or cow stolen here or there, or 20-some head being taken.”

The loss to producers can be significant. In a November 2013 grand theft case in Union County, 75 hogs weighing about 230 pounds each were stolen from a farm that estimated the loss at $12,375 or about $165 per hog. Cattle values can range from $1,000 to $2,000 per animal depending on type and market value, while horse values can go even higher per animal (Wyoming resident Miles Peterson, 30, recently pleaded guilty to felony grand theft of a horse valued at $2,500 in Butte County.)

This story was produced by South Dakota News Watch, a non-profit news organization. To read it in its entirety, click here.