Cattle missing in Garfield County |

Cattle missing in Garfield County

Mike McKibbin
Rifle correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colo. ” Close to 450 head of cattle have been reported missing from Garfield County ranches since July 1, including 145 head in the Divide Creek area alone, according to a top agricultural official.

But Colorado Cattleman’s Association President Paul Bernklau said authorities aren’t sure whether cattle rustlers are to blame, or simply someone wanting to put meat on the table in these tough economic times.

“Some of them probably just died, and you have some predator kills, but that’s probably a very small percentage,” he added.

The missing cattle may have been corralled and loaded onto trailers while the animals grazed on public lands, Bernklau said.

“It’s pretty easy to load the cattle with a truck and trailer,” he added.

And this year’s jump in the numbers of missing cattle over previous years isn’t limited to this area or even Colorado, Bernklau noted. In the Western U.S., some 3,000 head were reported missing to state and local brand boards and agricultural officials, Bernklau said. In Colorado, Garfield County has the most missing cattle, followed by Fremont, Park, Routt and Moffat counties, he said.

One year ago, Routt County had a case where 50 head of cattle were corralled and loaded onto a trailer, Bernklau said.

“That was close to the Wyoming state line and once they get the cattle out of state, it’s even harder to find them,” he said.

In the 1980s, authorities caught some modern day cattle rustlers near Collbran, Bernklau added. They were taking the animals to be butchered.

“They drove without their headlights on and had disconnected their tail lights so no one would see them at night,” Bernklau recounted.

Recovering stolen livestock is difficult, and selling them on the black market or to a business that butchers them and mixes their meat with other hamburger, for instance, can be pretty lucrative, Bernklau said.

For ranchers in Divide Creek and elsewhere that have missing cattle, each calf probably had an average market price of $550 to $600 and each yearling between $750 and $800.

Now, Bernklau and ag agencies want the public to keep an eye out for anything suspicious involving cattle being rounded up.

“Call your neighbor, or the sheriff or the (Colorado) Division of Wildlife,” he said. “We’ve asked the DOW to have their officers keep an eye out because they’re always out and about.”

The Operation Livestock Thief program offers a reward of up to $2,500 for the conviction of anyone involved in such crimes. Bernklau said ranchers should report missing cattle to brand inspector Mike Walck at 625-2015.

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