STIGLER, Okla. -- Haskell County is a population of less than 14,000 people, but 75 percent of business is farming and ranching.
Now law enforcement is scrambling to make changes to protect their community.
Ralph Carpenter never thought this would happen to him: four cows stolen by neighbors earlier this year. He gave up hope, until five arrests were made and the cattle returned safely.
"I didn't think we'd get them back. They had them about nine days. Part of them had all the hair off of them, they thought one of them was dead," Carpenter said.
The value was about $6,000, but some cows can earn as much as $2500 a head.
"That would have been a big lick to take. If we had to take replacement heifers to replace them it would have taken them three years to get back into the herd," Carpenter said.
Now the sheriff is urging ranchers to brand and tag all their cattle. In the last year the department has investigated eight cases of people stealing cows, re-selling them, and using the money to buy drugs. The department suspects at least ten other cases went unreported, as he sees this is a growing trend in rural Oklahoma.
"When you take one calf from a farmer or a rancher who only has ten cattle... that's ten percent of their herd that you've just taken. That's how they pay, how they make money to support their family for the rest of the year," Sheriff Tim Turner said.
Now auction houses are on high alert. They go through every cow that comes through the door with a fine-tooth comb, saying usually cattle is taken across county lines.
"Time and time again we have a fax that comes in every day saying that we have stolen cattle in this county or stolen cattle in that county and to look for their brands. We're constantly when checking them in we're looking for their brand on their backs," said Logan Satterfield with Stigler Livestock Auction.
Ranchers fear this crime will peak in the summer, as cattle often hides away in the shade.
"Everybody's got a few cows and a lot of people have a job so they don't check their cows until the weekend and they're gone and they don't even know which way to look where they went," rancher JimBob Cross said.
The sheriff has even seen thieves set up their own pens to lure in cows, taking them after ranchers are off the property.
"We're starting to see that trend of, if you go and get one or two calves off each different pasture... those guys are going to take it as a loss of a calf dying when it could have really been stolen," Sheriff Turner said.
Currently the sheriff's office is developing a new cattle log to mark the properties where ranchers are raising cows, and ranchers said they're changing locks and updating security to prevent a crime from happening.
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