Cattle thefts reported through the end of June to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture's investigative services division are down roughly 13 percent compared with last year, records show.
Investigators working in the field say such crimes can be difficult to prosecute because of the crime scenes, which are often remote and devoid of any human witnesses.
A rolling list of stolen agriculture assets, dating to early 2010, is available on the department's website.
Farmers and ranchers have reported 261 head of cattle as being stolen, along with a single horse, during the first six months of 2012.
Last year, 301 head of cattle and two horses were reportedly stolen from rural counties in Oklahoma through the end of June. By the end of the year, that number would reach 381.
Records show that cattle thefts can happen at any time of year and can range from a single cow to dozens at a time.
The incidents are reported all over the state — from the southeast corner to the Panhandle.
In June, a group of 75 mixed steers was reported missing in Johnston County. Roughly four months earlier, 78 black steers were stolen in Woods County.
Last year, cattle thieves took groups of 37, 52 and 75 in their clandestine raids, records show.
Trends hard to spot
Special Agent Donnie Crain, an agriculture department investigator, said cattle thefts are generally random in nature.
Crain's area of responsibility encompasses northwestern Oklahoma, where remoteness is in plentiful supply.
“There are no real trends, they're liable to happen anywhere,” he said. “There will be times when more are happening in certain areas but there's no real pattern to it.”
Crain said his division, which is relatively new, collects reports from local sheriffs, police departments, farmers and ranchers.
He said the division's central office, in Oklahoma City, collects the information and tracks the thefts.
“I think most of it gets reported,” Crain said. “There may be an occasion when a farmer or rancher notices that a couple of head are missing and he just assumes they wandered off. And that can go the other way, of course.”
Cattle, depending on their weight, age and other factors, can be worth hefty sums of money.
Crain said thieves can get anything from a few hundred dollars for a smaller cow or calf to upward of $2,000 for the right animal. He said most of the thefts are solved by tracking who sold the stolen livestock, although prosecuting such crimes is rare.
“It is difficult to come up with witnesses in some of these areas,” Crain said. “But the more people that get to know us, the more people we'll catch.”
A typical suspect is hard to pin down.
“I don't know that there is a typical rustler,” Crain said. “But they will usually know how to get rid of them once they steal them and they will know what to look for as far as which animals are worth the most money.”