Ranchers and farmers are grappling with a new problem: hay rustling, says the New York Times. 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.
Most of the cases are being reported in the west, but at least one hay theft was reported in December in North Carolina. At Mark Reifenrath's farm in northern Colorado, two men driving a stolen pickup opened a gate in October and took two 800-pound square bundles of freshly cut hay. Sheriffs in rural counties in Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas say the spike in hay thefts is part of a broader rise in agricultural crime. California's farmers have seen more thefts of grapes, beehives and avocados, and high prices of scrap metal have made agricultural machinery — whether it works or not — an appealing target.