The grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Drought-stricken New Mexico and other states are experiencing a new kind of crime spree. It's not car thefts or drugs — it's grass.
Cattle ranchers, facing dried-out grazing land and increasing hay prices, are reportedly cutting fences and leaving gates open, allowing their herds to graze on neighbors' lands, according to an Associated Press report.
"We've had around five cases in the past few weeks," Sheriff Michael Lucero of New Mexico's Guadalupe County told the AP. He suspects many other cases aren't being reported. Even the ones that are reported don't usually end up going to court, since the only witnesses to the crimes tend to be animals, and cows don't make the most reliable witnesses.
The crimes aren't just affecting grazing land. One Colorado rancher reported that thieves took off with $5,000 worth of high-quality alfalfa hay from his field. Not only that, the hay-nappers ruined some other, lower-quality hay to get at the good stuff. Rancher Ted Swanson said this was the only time any of his hay has been stolen in his 20 years of operation.
According to the AP, the drought has driven up hay prices dramatically, sometimes by as much as 100 percent.
Some ranchers are reportedly resorting to spray-painting their hay bright colors to prevent further thefts. That doesn't sound very appetizing for the cows, but it's better than the alternative: many ranchers, unable to feed their stocks, have been forced to sell off portions of their herds for early slaughter rather than let them die of starvation.
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MNN tease photo of cow: Shutterstock