East Texas Thieves Target Cattle

The current high beef prices are making livestock a prime target for thieves, keeping cattle theft investigators busy. Today, authorities say they've broken up a major cattle-rustling ring that stretched across eight Southeast Texas counties. Some of the cows stolen came from hall of fame pitcher Nolan Ryan's ranch.

Special Ranger Jimmy Dixon investigates cattle theft in seven East Texas counties and says similar situations occur locally.   Dixon works for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, an organization that recovered more than six million dollars worth of livestock last year.

"Livestock is kind of different," said Special Ranger Jimmy Dixon. "If you have a thief, and he steals a TV or something he probably can't get much money for it, but livestock he probably can get what that animal is worth that day, and right now the livestock market is awful good." Dixon says thieves drive right into people's pastures and load the cattle.  That's what happened to Johnny Reagan six years ago.

"I went over one morning to check this set of cattle South of the house, and there wasn't nothing there," said cattle rancher Johnny Reagan. Reagan had 11 cows stolen, worth a thousand dollars a piece.

"I get mad every time I think about it," said Reagan. "Wouldn't you get mad if somebody was taking that kind of money out of your lively hood, and it's an ongoing thing you know. Every time I load up a load of cattle from that place, that's 11 head that's gone." Dixon says there are things cattle ranchers can do to protect their livestock, like brand their animals and avoid feeding them where thieves can easily get to.

"Don't have a certain routine, check your pasture at odd times and know your neighbors," said Dixon.  Reagan says he's learned his lesson.

"I lock my gates, and don't ever feed in the alley ways," said Reagan. "It's advice Dixon says he hopes other cattle ranchers will remember.  Investigators say stealing a head of cattle is a state jail felony and the charge increases the more that are stolen.

Molly Reuter, reporting. mreuter@kltv.com