It’s the 19th century all over again: High on the list of stories I wasn’t expecting to see is this San Francisco Chronicle account of a rise in cattle rustling. As the Chronicle writes, “[o]ver the past 10 years, more than 16,000 head of cattle and calves valued at more than $9 million have been reported missing and stolen from California farms and ranches.” As the prices for beef and milk go up, thefts do, too, and the trend isn’t confined to California: Texas and the Great Plains have had the same problems.

The Chronicle story is a dispiriting read:

‘Sometimes you’ll see a cow running back and forth alongside a fence, and she is moaning,’ missing her calf, said Pat Taylor, the brand registrar at the state bureau. ‘Her bag is full,’ meaning she has an engorged udder, having just delivered, ‘and someone has just taken her calf. It’s terrible.’

The thefts are often inside jobs and they aren’t always well-planned—a lot of thieves are just desperate for meth money, according to a detective. Law enforcement officials have even “stopped Toyota Camrys stuffed with calves.” The stolen calves are frequently neglected and end up sick or dead.

In the story’s lead, thieves abandon a pair of calves after discovering they’ve been branded. (A quarter of the beef cattle in California are not branded, largely for humane reasons, and up to half of the cows in the state are unmarked.) So they tossed out the calves in the middle of a Central California town: “A car came by and struck and killed one of the calves. The other one wandered a mile away, ending up in a man’s front yard.”

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