The methods may have changed over the years, but the principles of farming- and the risks that go with it- have largely remained the same.
That includes an old cowboy stereotype with very real implications- cattle rustling.
“I think people think of it as a thing of the wild west, but it is getting more common with cattle values getting higher,” Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association general manager Chad MacPherson said.
As RCMP investigate a case of 21 missing calves believed to have been stolen from a property near Prelate, Sask., other ranchers are on high alert.
“As you get into vast areas where it’s more open and ranch country, I think it’s a huge problem,” SSGA president Bill Huber said.
The Stock Grower’s Association receives 30 to 40 complaints of livestock theft every year, but the number of animals involved in each incident is growing. The missing calves are valued at over $30,000. The cows were tagged and branded with the letters “HE” on the right rib.
It’s been years since Huber’s family has been affected by rustlers, but they’ve dealt with their fair share.
Huber, who also serves as a director for the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said it would take a lot of preparation to pull off this kind of crime.
“What is a big advantage to thieves is they can take stock trailers and flat deck trailers and quads, portable panels and portable chutes,” he said. “Two or three people can set up a small handling facility and either coax them in with some feed or chase them in with quads.”
“Within minutes or less than an hour they’re going to have 20 or 30 head corralled and they’ll be gone with nothing but tracks to see that they were there.”
The Stock Growers Association offers a $5000 reward for information that leads to a conviction in livestock theft cases against their members.
While this latest case is unusual, the group says it highlights the importance of branding and proper management.
“That’s how you’re able to prove ownership,” MacPherson said. “In Saskatchewan and most of Canada there is brand inspecting in place. That system is there to protect producers. If a producer is using a registered brand and someone else tries to sell your animals, the brand inspection will step in and redirect the proceeds so they can’t be stolen.”
Saskatchewan RCMP received 26 complaints of livestock theft in 2018, but even when they get the call, it’s a tricky case to prove.
“Possession of stolen property is usually easier to prove,” Cpl. Rob King said. “It’s up to the producer to properly mark and track their animals and properly manage their herds to make sure they’re still confined in the areas they’re supposed to be.”
RCMP is in the process of dedicating officers to track livestock thefts.
In the meantime, Huber urges ranchers – especially those in far-flung areas – to be vigilant.
“Farmers and ranchers get into a habit of feeding at a certain time of day. They should change the timing sometimes. If somebody is watching their daily activity notices there’s nobody there at 3:00 in the afternoon day after day, that might be a good time in broad daylight to move in and get those cattle corralled loaded and out of there.”