Across the heartland, 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.
“It’s the economics of the times,” said Jack McGrath, the undersheriff in Colorado’s Weld County, where hay thefts rose to 15 last year from seven in 2011.