Across the West, ranchers, farmers and county sheriffs are grappling with a new scourge: hay rustling. Months of punishing drought and grass fires have pushed the price of hay, grain and other animal feed to near records, making the golden bales an increasingly irresistible target for thieves. Some steal them for profit. Others are fellow farmers acting out of desperation, their fields too brown to graze animals and their finances too wrecked to afford enough feed for their cattle.
Sheriffs in rural counties in Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas say the spike in hay thefts is part of a broader rise in agricultural crime.
California’s farmers have grappled recently with growing thefts of grapes, beehives and avocados, and sheriffs say high prices of scrap metal have made agricultural machinery — whether it works or not — an appealing target. Dubious online merchants are selling feed to farmers but never delivering. On the range, wire fences are being clipped to allow interloping herds to poach grazing land.