DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Nearly 1,000 hogs have been stolen from Iowa and Minnesota farms in recent weeks, and investigators believe one or more well-organized animal theft operation may be responsible.
Many of the thefts are happening at large animal confinement operations. Authorities believe pigs are being hauled off by the hundreds in trucks and likely sold to slaughterhouses. Investigators say such hog thefts — particularly in such large numbers — are fairly rare, but note that hog prices have increased in the last year.
Officials in Nicollet County, Minn., said Thursday that at least 700 hogs have been stolen recently from facilities there and in nearby Kandiyohi County. In Mitchell County, Iowa, authorities are investigating the theft of about 200 hogs from farms. So far, no arrests have been made and none of the animals have been recovered. Officials say while they believe the thefts in their own states are linked, they have not determined if the thefts in Minnesota and Iowa are connected.
The buildings where the hogs are kept at large animal confinement operations generally have side curtains that are raised and lowered for ventilation, and the thieves can gain entry by cutting through those and through netting that keeps birds out, investigators say. The facilities involved also are in isolated locations.
“Not many people drive by and this time of year they’re surrounded by corn,” said Nicollet County sheriff’s investigator Marc Chadderdon.
Chadderdon also said it’s not unusual for trucks to pull up to the facilities at all hours of the day and night to deliver feed or collect hogs ready for slaughter.
Chadderdon said the thieves in Minnesota seem to be targeting specific facilities based on their location and the type of hogs they have. Chadderdon said the thieves appear to be conducting surveillance first. The hogs stolen in Minnesota were all market ready, weighing between 250 and 275 pounds, he said.
“They wanted ones ready to be sold,” Chadderdon said. “There is a higher profit margin if you don’t have to feed them.”
About 150 hogs, valued at about $30,000, were taken from a confinement in Nicollet County. About 560 hogs were taken from a facility over a three-day period in August from the facility in Kandiyohi County. Those hogs were valued at $100,000.
“If you’re taking 500 of them, it’s quite an operation, you’re not going to do that by yourself,” Chadderdon said.
He said he’s never seen hog thefts on this scale before.
“It doesn’t happen,” he said. “I’ve been here 17 years and we’ve had a couple or a half dozen stolen but nothing of this volume and not of this sophistication.”
Mitchell County, Iowa, Sheriff Curt Younker, said three farms operated by Iowa Select Farms were broken into in recent weeks. None of the buildings were locked, he said. In addition, one or two individual farmers also reported hogs stolen, the sheriff said.
Dr. Howard Hill, director of animal well-being at the Iowa Falls-based Iowa Select Farms, said some of the hogs stolen from the company’s facilities were tattooed but that the chances are slim the hogs will be found. He said most stolen hogs go directly to a processor who deals with the same people most of the time. If someone a processor doesn’t know shows up wanting to sell a truck-load of hogs it would be suspicious, Hill said.
The animals taken from there were younger, feeder hogs that weigh around 40-60 pounds, said company spokeswoman Jen Holtkamp, valued at about $50 per head. The estimated loss is about $10,000.
Bill Tentinger, a northwest Iowa hog producer and president-elect of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said stolen hogs can be difficult to track because many aren’t tagged or tattooed. Nonetheless, he believes someone showing up on short-notice with a load of hogs to sell to a packing plant would be hard to miss.
“I find it difficult they could get those pigs marketed unless they had an organized effort lined up to do this,” he said. “I can’t just send a load to a plant and say unload them, they won’t’ accept them.”
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