Since 2017, more than 2,000 cattle have gone missing in South Dakota — and those are just the reported cases to the state Brand Board.
The actual number is suspected to be much higher than that.
With calves and cows worth anywhere from $900 to $2,000 apiece, cattle rustling is a big business. It’s a risk thieves are willing to take because so few are ever caught.
Out of the thousands of livestock reported missing in South Dakota in the last few years, fewer than 20 percent are ever recovered. But when a cattle rustler is caught, it’s a serious crime.
In July, Aaron Podzimek of Wagner was sentenced for stealing more than more than $300,000 worth of cattle and feed checks in Charles Mix County. Podzimek ran a feed lot and sold cattle that didn’t belong to him. He pleaded guilty to one felony of embezzlement or grand theft. He’ll spend a year-and-a-half in prison and must pay the owners back nearly $333,000.
In 2019, Joshua Nygaard pleaded guilty in a plea bargain of possessing stolen property after taking 29 head of cattle from a Moody County farm. Nygaard was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and ordered to pay $31,450 in restitution.
In 2017, Nicholas Tooker was arrested in Texas and faced extradition to South Dakota on a felony cattle theft charge out of Hamlin County. He ended up paying the owner $10,000 for the steer and the charges were dismissed.
In 2015, Kyle Alan Hall got seven years for grand theft after taking 11 calves from a Hyde County ranch where he worked as a hired hand. Hall sold the stolen calves on Craigslist.
Yet hundreds of cases of missing cattle go unsolved every year, like the four producers in McPherson County who lost 111 cattle last fall.
“Here’s the difficult part when it comes to investigating these thefts–a lot of times producers will turn their cattle out in the spring and they often do run through their cattle on a weekly basis–sometimes a couple of times of week. But in a large area, it’s hard to get a good head count until you’ve gathered in the fall,” McPherson County Sheriff Dave Ackerman said.
Lesterville area farmer Dan Kubal was a little bit luckier; he has evidence the thieves left behind when they stole 17 head of cattle from him in July.
“They used horses, two horses–we found the tracks for that. It was very well organized, let’s put it that way,” Kubal said.
Investigators are hoping something breaks in Kubal’s case. We’ll take a look at how the thieves rounded up his cattle and what other evidence they left behind Thursday night as our investigation into cattle rustling continues in an Eye on KELOLAND Investigation. Plus we will see how different rules for different sides of the state makes it easier for rustlers to get away with the crime.