'Cattle rustling' cases on the rise in Indiana

David Brock, Hendricks County farmer

An Old West crime has become a modern day problem for Indiana ranchers.

The Indiana Beef Cattle Association told Eyewitness News it's hearing more reports of livestock theft, or "cattle rustling," including as many as 80 head of cattle stolen in two years from one farm in the northern part of the state.

The losses are huge in that case, totaling $120,000. It's an expense that can put ranchers out of business and drive up meat prices at the grocery store.

David Brock, a Hendricks County farmer, recently discovered he'd been the target of a cattle theft. He said he believes the thief lured seven of his beef cattle away by ringing a dinner bell with feed.

"We walked the pasture, the lot they were in, and just realized everything was gone," Brock explained.

Then he noticed tire tracks right next to the pasture gate.

"They just backed their trailer up and loaded animals that didn't belong to them," said Brock. "It's cattle rustling, right out of the days of the Old West."

This wasn't the movies, though, and John Wayne was nowhere in sight. Brock didn't need "The Duke," though. He had other beef cattle farmers who stepped up to help him.

"If you know the beef cattle industry and the people that are involved, what a tight knit group we are, then you know that word travels fast," he said.

That word did, with the help of the Brock Farms brand - a backwards "F" with the letter "B" - on every cow.

"We took a picture of the brand and put it on Facebook and just sent it everywhere," Brock explained.

It worked. A Johnson County beef buyer called him almost a week later saying that someone had tried to sell him three of the heifers. A day after that, another farmer in Putnam County called saying he'd had four more that showed up in his pasture.

"What's the world coming to, when somebody's dumb enough to steal a branded cow?" Brock asked.

While the crime may have seemed illogical to Brock, he did admit that cattle prices are sky high right now - twice as high as any other point in his memory. That's because cattle farmers out West sold off most of their stock two years ago when they ran out of feed for their mother cows during the summer drought in 2012.

That's driven up cattle prices now, making just one of Brock's heifers worth thousands of dollars.

"If somebody came along and offered me $3,000 a piece for those cows, I wouldn't take 'em," said Brock.

The Hendricks County Sheriffs Department said they're still investigating this case of cattle rustling, but so far, they don't have any suspects.