Authorities continue investigation of suspected Pendergrass cattle theft
The Ozark County Sheriff’s Office and the Missouri State Highway Patrol Rural Crimes Investigative Unit continue to investigate the suspected theft of 23 head of cattle from the Ashley Pendergrass farm between Caulfield and Bakersfield.
Pendergrass last saw his missing cattle on Oct. 18 of last year when he sorted out a load of culls to sell at Ozarks Regional Stockyards in West Plains. “I counted 60 head as they walked out,” he said, referring to the cows that were left in the field after loading the others for sale. A couple of weeks later he started feeding hay and noticed that his herd “didn’t count out right.” He didn’t think much of it at first, but his count continued to come up short at subsequent feeding times. That’s when he decided to report the cattle as missing. “It’s a real bad loss. It’s pretty hard to take,” said Pendergrass.
Pendergrass did recover four missing cows after a neighbor who spotted them, but 23 head still remain unaccounted for. Although some of his fencing had been damaged by flooding, Pendergrass pointed out that with the drought and winter weather, any escaped cattle would likely stay in nearby hayfields where they could easily graze. He also said his neighbors “are always good to call,” and that it was unlikely his cattle would have made it far without being spotted by someone. None of his neighbors reported seeing any suspicious activities, and Pendergrass did not find any fencing that had obviously been cut or any other signs of trespassing.
The cattle are all black, weigh an average of 1,000 pounds and have a brand on their right hip. “People think it looks like a six,” said Pendergrass, “but it’s actually an upside-down L and an upside-down P.” The cattle also have orange numbered ear tags, which were incorrectly reported as being yellow in a bulletin released recently by the Rural Crimes Investigative Unit.
Pendergrass reported the cattle missing on Nov. 29, 2017, but says they could have been taken anytime after Oct. 18.
Pendergrass said area sale barns he has worked with always record brands, ear tags and other identifying features when cattle are sold. “We have cooperation from the local stockyards and are in the process of reaching out to others outside the area,” said Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed, who added that his office is looking into a couple of leads but has no specific suspect information. “The flyers were sent out all across the county,” said Reed, referring to the MSHP Rural Crimes Investigative Unit’s bulletin.
“It makes it pretty hard on the producer when they do all the work to properly identify their cattle, and then they come up missing. It’s bad on everybody if somebody can just get away with taking them like that,” said Pendergrass.
While it remains to be seen whether these branded cattle will be reunited with their owner, agriculture and law enforcement professionals stress the importance of branding livestock. According to the Missouri Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for registering livestock brands, “Branding is one of the oldest and best ways to permanently identify livestock. It serves as an excellent safeguard against livestock theft, loss or dispute.” In addition to branding, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association also recommends that producers ask neighbors to help keep an eye on their farm and that they count livestock regularly, lock gates and keep equipment secure and out of view.
A $1,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information should contact Reed at 679-4633 or Sgt. Casey Jadwin at MSHP, 417-469-3121.