Missouri sale barns getting alerts about stolen livestock

ST. JOSEPH (AP) — Investigators have begun alerting Missouri sale barns about stolen livestock that may turn up at their auctions in an attempt to stifle a lucrative rustling trade.

The Missouri Highway Patrol said it began sending the alerts to the sale barns in the spring, providing the businesses with descriptions of the stolen animals.

“We approached them from a networking, partnership point of view,” said Maria Furey, a criminal intelligent analyst for the Patrol’s rural crimes investigative unit. “Most of them, pretty much all of them, are accommodating because they don’t like the idea of potentially selling stolen livestock either.”

Livestock, especially cattle, are an easy target for thieves and can be sold at reputable sale barns without the owner’s knowledge unless proper precautions are in place.

“The thing I hear about the auctions is they’re so incredibly fast-paced and they can be almost chaotic, in a rhapsody kind of way. A complete controlled chaos,” Furey said.

The alerts allow sale barn owners to identify stolen livestock before they’re put on the auction block. Jeff Windett, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattleman’s Association, said the effort has been successful so far.

Most stolen livestock are sold within 100 miles of the theft location, so emphasis in the alerts is placed on livestock stolen within their particular region. The Patrol’s rural crimes division has six regions in the state.

Not all stolen livestock are sold through sale barns, Furey said, and not all sale barns are negligent in making illegal sales.

Mark Servaes, manager of the St. Joseph Stockyards, said his business takes many measures to make sure its selling legitimate, healthy livestock. He said the company checks the identification of sellers and allows only those it is familiar with or who come with a reputable reference to sell livestock there.

“We’re pretty tough security at our place,” Servaes said. “If someone has a reputation that could be a little bit off the record, we just don’t invite them to sell at our place. So that keeps most of those doors unopened for us to get some of those stolen cattle, because they know we’re going to look for something. Other places will invite them to make a dollar off them, but we don’t do that.”

Farmers are asked to diligently keep track of their livestock so they can provide accurate descriptions for the alerts. That includes keeping regular inventory of their herds and being able to describe the color, size and tags of the animals.

“We need to have concrete, identifiable attributes,” Furey said.

“That’s the best way to put out an alert, so that people who are trying to help know what to look for.”

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