MOUNT VERNON (AP) - Hundreds of cattle owners in southwest Missouri turned up for a recent demonstration on cattle branding, which officials say may help deal with the recent upsurge in cattle thefts.
Brad DeLay, sheriff of Lawrence County, said a spate of cattle thefts across southwest Missouri in recent weeks has subsided. But officials estimate that up to 200 head of cattle have been stolen in the past two years, creating a potential loss of $200,000. The most recent theft was reported about a month ago in Greene County.
"I think there is an awareness kicking in now," DeLay said. "People are more watchful, and they are coming to branding demonstrations like this one. This won't solve everything, but seeing a brand on someone's cattle might deter a theft."
Kris Callison demonstrated freeze branding at the recent event, staged by the University of Missouri Extension office in Lawrence County, the Southwest Missouri Cattlemen's Association and area sheriffs' departments. Rather than burning a scar into the animal, a freeze brand damages the pigment-producing hair cells, causing the animal's hair to grow white where the brand has been applied.
"It would hit us hard if we had just one or two cattle taken in a theft," Callison said.
Eldon Cole, a cattle expert with the extension, said branding has long deterred cattle theft and settled ownership issues. He said having a brand remains a good way to identify the ownership of cattle, since tattoos can be removed and ear tags can be cut away.
"But a brand is like a return address," he said. "You might get them back, and you might not."
A registered brand under Missouri law must have two or more characters. It costs $35 to register a brand for five years with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Cole said.
Darrel Franson, a Mount Vernon cattleman, has been using freeze branding since the mid-1990s. So far, none of his cattle have been stolen. But he is aware his farm could be vulnerable to cattle rustlers.
"They (rustlers) have got to have light to sort out the calves worth stealing," he said. "That's why I get out and patrol part of my farm on moonlit nights. I know where they would try to get in."