BURNET COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) - Ranchers in Texas say they're seeing more of their livestock disappear, and investigators may know why.
"There's been a real uptick in cattle theft since 2007," said Special Ranger Doug Hutchison. "That year there were about 2,400 head reported missing or stolen. In 2012 that number jumped to about 10,000 head."
Hutchison says it's the worst he's ever seen with thefts. He believes there are two main reasons why.
"Seems like there's a lot in the meth community that's driving this," Hutchinson said. "And not just them...you'll see internal theft in ranches. Some of the ranch hands get a little greedy and want to funnel some cattle out the back gate."
That could potentially put a lot of extra cash in their pockets. Rustlers can make $200 for a calf and up to $1,500 for a full a bull or cow. Thieves turn to one of many auctions across the state for a quick sale.
Even with inspectors checking for stolen livestock, too many are still slipping through.
From Bastrop to Burnet to Llano, ranchers taking extra steps to keep to cattle from breaking away from their pastures so they don't end up on the auction block illegally.
"They see an animal on the side of the road before the owner knows that the animal is out, somebody drives up with a trailer, loads it on the trailer and they're gone," said WT Smith, Burnet County Sheriff.
Experts say the spike in thefts is a big part of the reason why consumers are paying more at the market for cuts of beef.
The increase in cattle thefts comes as other crimes continue to rise in the Hill Country. Crime Stoppers in the region warn they're dealing with thieves stealing cars, farm equipment, and even construction vehicles. The agency says often, thieves quickly sell those vehicles at low prices in order to turn a quick profit.
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