Bad Oklahoma Drought Leads To Spike In Hay Thefts

Friday, January 11th 2013, 6:14 pm
By: Dana Hertneky

An unexpected consequence to the severe drought that has gripped Oklahoma is a spike in hay thefts.

The problem is a big one across the Midwest, and here in Oklahoma. Because of the drought, and recent wildfires, those big bales of hay are like gold and now thieves are treating them that way too.

Johnie Wilson raises racing thoroughbreds on his Meridian ranch. He goes through a lot of hay. And the drought has made things even tougher. So when thieves stole 25 bales of hay, it was almost the last straw.

"We baled it and went back the next day and it was all gone," recalls Wilson.

In Logan County alone, they report 23 cases of hay thefts in the past two years amounting to about $32,000 dollars in losses.

"People will cut a fence line, come across into their property, load up as much as they can take in one trip or two trips and they're gone it is quite a problem,"  said Capt. Richard Stephens with the Logan County Sheriff's office.

10/9/2013 Related Story: Drought Leads To ‘Natural Disaster' Declaration For Nearly Every Oklahoma County

The problem is widespread across rural areas of the state. In Tillman County the sheriff even resorted to planting a GPS in a hay bale, and sure enough someone stole it. 

The sheriff caught Troy and Brandon Baker red handed they pleaded guilty. They are currently serving a three year suspended sentence. The sheriff believes they were stealing the hay to feed their own livestock. 

In other cases, thieves see a healthy profit in the golden bales ranchers have piled up to make it through the winter.

"They've had to truck it on top of the snow and ice and then you add in the drought conditions we've had and it's become an extraordinary commodity," said Stephens.

And that's why ranchers are being told it should be treated like the rest of their valuables.

"It's in [the] barn," said Wilson.

Law enforcement says they expect the problem to get worse as the winter wears on.