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SUNNYVALE (CBS 11 NEWS) – Putting beef on the table could be getting even more expensive. One reason — cattle thefts are on the rise. More and more cows are disappearing from North Texas ranches as cattle rustling becomes more lucrative.

What many of the thieves don’t realize is that there is a special group of rangers hunting them down.

“We’re just looking for, just making sure this wire is still in good shape here. That the wire it not broke off from the stake,” said Troy McKinney, a cattle ranger with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, as he inspected a fence.

The group is funded privately by ranch members and is certified by state law enforcement to use force to bring alleged thieves to justice.

“Good hands, it won’t take them more than 10 or 15 minutes to load up two or three head of cattle,“ said McKinney.

Just two or three cows right now are worth between $4,000 to $5,000. As beef costs skyrocket to record prices, McKinney said thefts are going up right along with the higher values.

Rangers say if a cow is stolen, there is really no way to tell if it’s actually stolen without a earmark or a branding on the animal.

Ranch manager David Ferguson at E-Bar-S Ranch in Sunnyvale said he cannot be everywhere on his 3,500 acres he manages. “I make sure that doesn’t happen to the best of my ability. But still, it’s kind of a helpless feeling.”

Ferguson said if a rancher is continuously hit by thieves, it can make them quit ranching. He said fewer ranchers only means fewer cattle being raised and fewer cattle leads to higher prices for families.

But out there in the twilight, there are rangers like McKinney. They hit the trail to make sure those thefts do not keep happening. “You’re not going to get away with it. We’re going to find you,” he said.

Earlier in December, Bradley Wayne Guthrey, 25, was arrested for allegedly stealing 70 head of cattle across Texas.

McKinney believes there will only be more thefts as prices for beef continue to stay high.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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