Costly cattle problem

Much more than a plot line from a western novel, this month’s brazen theft of cattle in Eastern Alberta is a stark reminder of the downside of the upswing in ranchers’ fortunes.

Much more than a plot line from a western novel, this month’s brazen theft of cattle in Eastern Alberta is a stark reminder of the downside of the upswing in ranchers’ fortunes.

Cattle rustling is one of the oldest crimes on the Prairies, yet those who raise livestock fear it’s been relegated to a novelty status, the kind of story reporters can bring out their best “cow puns” for, and the kind of case for rookie lawyers (if the perpetrators are ever caught).

But as cattle prices continue to raise the ceiling to new heights across North America, that may have to change.

Thankfully, Alberta at least has an RCMP Livestock Investigation Unit, which has been busier than ever.

The latest case it’s asking for the public’s help on involves the theft of 59 heifers from a farm near Czar, in the Provost region. At current market value, those feeder heifers are worth about $80,000.

Ranch owner Allan Hobbs is prepared to put up a $25,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the missing cattle.

Corp. Dave Heaslip has been chasing rustlers and their ilk for years. In this case, the RCMP livestock investigator is confident the animals didn’t just break through a fence. They were in an 80-acre field, right near the feedlot in the main farm yard, and were fed and checked regularly. They were branded and tagged — all the things that are supposed to help in cases like this.

“We suspect the animals were taken by someone who knew the daily routine so evaded detection,” said Heaslip.

The number was just right for a full load in a straight haul livestock trailer, which could have been filled relatively quickly.

Allan Hobbs admits theirs is a busy yard. With the feedlot, and the fact the family buys and sells feed, vehicles are coming and going regularly. But one of those departing rigs must have contained their cattle.

“There were supposed to be 192 head, and when we brought them in to sort and haul them off for summer pasture the first week of May, that’s when we noticed ‘holy smokes, we’re short,’” exclaimed Hobbs.

It was a gut-wrenching discovery.

“It felt like I had a target on my back,” admitted the rancher, whose faith in his fellow man has been shaken.

“But it’s not a real first for the area. These thefts have been going on for quite some time. About three years ago, a potload and a half of cows and calves went missing from south of Czar, and they never did find a trace of them. It’s an ongoing issue.”

Like so much of rural Alberta, this region is big country, with miles between ranches, and traffic usually sparse.

But there is routine and rhythm to farm work, and Hobbs believes someone had been studying their operation.

“Oh, I think so. I think they’re very organized, and I think they knew where those cattle were going before they picked them up.”

Hobbs and his sons run the mixed farming outfit that’s been going for 104 years. Their distinctive “Lazy H C running bar” brand would not be easy to alter, but Hobbs suspects those heifers may end up in a remote pasture as breeding animals that never come to town, to avoid detection. But he’s hoping his sizable reward offer might still lead to the recovery of the animals.

“We want to catch who did this. Look, I’m out $80,000 now. If I get the heifers back, and if I pay the $25,000 reward out, I’m still $55,000 ahead of where I am now.”

“The more we can get the word out there, the more people will be vigilant, and not only in this case, but in other cases as well.”

Hobbs calls cattle rustling a real problem, with not very real consequences.

“The thing is these guys who are doing it have nothing to lose, and if they get caught, there’s really no penalty. They’ll get a small fine, maybe a year’s probation, and then they’ll go back and do it again.

“We need to fix the justice system so there’s some recrimination for these criminals. We need some tougher penalties, something with some teeth in it, that will make them think twice if they get caught.

“The industry is going to have to address this theft issue. It’s been ongoing forever, and it’s getting worse, because things are worth so much. It’s really hard because it’s straight loss for the producer that loses them.

“If somebody out there has any information on any of this, maybe we can break this ring up, and do some good. Because I don’t think this is the first time they’ve done this.”

For the Hobbs farm, it’s a search and recovery operation. But for other ranchers, Corp. Heaslip advises vigilance in these heady economic times for the beef business.

“We’re asking guys, if you’re going to put your cattle out on pasture, check to see who the neighbors are. Tell them what you drive, and who’d be checking the cattle. Out in the rural community, everybody knows what’s going on. Always brand your cattle. If you’re checking them once or twice a week, maybe you’d better check them three times a week, because time is of the essence.”

There have been some tips coming in on the Hobbs case, and as costly as it would be, Allan Hobbs is convinced his sizable reward offer for the cattle, the arrest, and conviction of the criminal would be a small price to pay for the greater good of his farm, and the cattle industry.

“I would pay it in a heartbeat.”

If you have any information about this crime, you can Allan Hobbs at 780-842-7106, your local RCMP detachment or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Dianne Finstad is a veteran broadcaster and reporter who has covered agricultural news in Central Alberta for more than 30 years. From the Field appears monthly in the Advocate.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

More than 120,000 Albertans have signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first two days of appointment bookings. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta Health Services apologizes after seniors struggle to book vaccine appointments

The CEO and president of Alberta Health Services is apologizing after seniors… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Kyle Moore, 26, will be a houseguest on Season 9 of Big Brother Canada. (Photo courtesy Big Brother Canada)
Red Deer man will be a houseguest on Big Brother Canada

A Red Deer man will be a houseguest on the upcoming season… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mason Ward battles with a Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward during the WHL Central Division season opener. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers come back to spoil Red Deer Rebels home opener

It’s been nearly 345 days since the Red Deer Rebels last played… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) falls on his knees as he skates around Ottawa Senators defenceman Artem Zub (2) during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, February 18, 2021. The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews when they take on the Edmonton Oilers Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto star Auston Matthews won’t play as Leafs face Oilers

EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs will be without star centre Auston Matthews… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

OTTAWA — A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough… Continue reading

Wetaskiwin RCMP say a Maskwacis man died after he was struck by a vehicle. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Clare’s Law in Saskatchewan used handful of times; Mounties review their role

REGINA — A first-of-its-kind law in Canada meant to warn those at… Continue reading

The Magpie river in Quebec is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Boreal River MANDATORY CREDIT
Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global ‘personhood’ movement

MONTREAL — With its kilometres of rapids and deep blue waters winding… Continue reading

Thorough sanding of a table top is usually the first step to renewing a finish. Wax contaminants can sometimes still remain on a surface like this after sanding. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a rag gets rid of these contaminants without leaving a residue behind. (Photo by Steve Maxwell)
Houseworks: Fixing wood finishes

Q: How can I stop polyurethane from beading up on a mahogany… Continue reading

Most Read