It's not clear just how many grass thefts have happened since most aren't reported, and even when they are, most don't result in arrests, said Myles Culbertson, executive director of the New Mexico Livestock Board.
“It's extremely hard to make a case. You almost have to have an eyewitness,” he said.
But reports from individual counties show an increase. In Colorado, for example, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office has received four reports of hay thefts in two months, the most it has seen in years, spokesman John Schulz said.
“We typically see an isolated case here and there, but nothing like this,” Schulz said.
In one case, Wellington, Colo. rancher Ted Swanson said $5,000 worth of hay was taken from a field over the Labor Day weekend. Swanson said the thieves knew what they were doing because they stole high quality alfalfa from storage and ruined lower quality to get it.
“I felt sort of astounded,” said Swanson, who never had been robbed of hay in 20 years of owning his ranch.
In some cases, ranchers can't find or afford hay to replace bales that are stolen. In Texas, for example, an 800-pound bale of hay costs about $150, roughly twice as much as it did at this time last year.