Not surprisingly, farmers resent rustlers

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

UNIONVILLE -- An early winter dip in beef cattle prices hasn't wiped out their increased value since this time last year, so cattle rustling might be seen as attractive. But folks at the stockyard here see it as a character flaw.

"The cattle business is built on a whole lot of trust," said Tommy Burgess, co-owner of the Mid-South Livestock Center on Highway 41-A North where his partner, Christina McKee, said news of cattle rustling "has been all the buzz here this morning."

Every Monday, cattlemen from across Middle Tennessee come to buy and sell beef cattle at the stockyard and its customers' comments carried a couple of common themes when they were asked if higher prices motivated rustling.

"I guess it would a thief," said Ross Giles, 77, of College Grove, who's been a cattle and tobacco farmer "all my life."

Prices "are down now from what they were a month ago," Giles said, acknowledging a seasonal adjustment because "People bring them in [for sale] when cold weather gets here."

Daryl Brown, 43, of Fayetteville, said prices "are higher than they were a year ago, but from what I hear, they're a little cheaper now, but that's from the drought and price of hay."

Feed costs increased as less hay was grown and cattlemen frequently sell off stock when they must feed them more in cold weather.

"I'd be real ill if somebody stole mine because they're like part of the family," Brown said. "But a thief is going to steal."

Brian Smith, 29, of Pulaski, said several months ago 11 head of cattle were stolen from his neighbor, but the rustlers were caught.

"It's all over the county, stealing cattle," Smith said. "All these people are going to these ID numbers in their ears. That's been going on, but I think it's because the price of beef is going up."

Burgess said farmers don't normally suspect their livestock or farm equipment will be stolen "until something like this happens... Farmers work so hard for their money. It's a bad deal."

Bobby Sanders was named as one of the victims in the thefts revealed by Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce.

"Bobby Sanders brings cattle here every week," Burgess said. "He got up one morning and his truck was gone. It had been parked in front of his house."

Beef prices might be "one thing that lured them to it," Stockyard partner McKee said in the office with the business' bookkeeper, Jeanni White, who added, "but if they're of that mind-set, they'll steal anything."

Construction tools and equipment were confiscated Monday at the rented home of Mark Robert Carter, the 29-year-old El Bethel resident who's been charged with theft of cattle. The impounded property is believed to have been stolen.

"People are always looking for a way to make what they think is easy money," said Jim Hardy, 58, of Huntland. "It don't take many cows for them to be worth a lot of money."

Tonya Brown of Fayetteville said a thief might see the value of cattle as high because they were stolen; "He has no money invested in them."

Seated near her during Monday's auction was a man who said, "There's more money in marijuana." Asked for his name, he replied, "I don't have one."