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Evidence shows someone used a trailer to steal 17 head of cattle from a ranch on Fish Hatchery Road in Mackay earlier this month, which Custer County Sheriff’s Deputy Shade Rosenkrance said is unusual.

“Cows get stolen often, but usually it’s one or two out on the range,” the deputy said. “That quantity really surprised me.”

The owner of the cattle reported them missing March 11 after searching the area to be sure they hadn’t wandered off. The cattle were accounted for about 4:30 p.m. on March 10, but discovered missing when ranch employees headed out around 5 a.m. March. 11.

Rosenkrance said he found evidence of theft, including tire tracks near that he couldn’t identify where the cattle went missing and some damage to a gate.

Rosenkrance said he has several suspects. Whoever did it needed the equipment and know-how to move at least two loads of cattle, Rosenkrance said, and also how to keep them fed and healthy.

Cattle rustling is common in Idaho, Rosenkrance said, but not at this scale.

The price of cattle varies, and Rosenkrance said depending on the animal they can be worth anywhere from $850 to $1,600.

The 17 stolen cows all had brands, Rosenkrance said, which means whoever took them won’t be able to sell them in Idaho with the state’s brand-inspecting system. However, the animals were bred cows, which Rosenkrance said gives the thief a couple of options. The cows could be butchered and the meat sold. But because the cows are pregnant they might wait till after they give birth. The calves could be sold and the mothers disposed of any way the thief sees fit, Rosenkrance said.

Either way, Rosenkrance speculated whoever stole the cattle will have to hold onto them for a while. It’s too risky to do anything with them at the moment.