The owner of at least five stolen Angus cows is offering a $1,000 reward after a group of rustlers loaded up the animals early Sunday in McMinn County and vanished.
It's not a common crime and usually happens only when the opportunity presents itself, according to McMinn Sheriff Joe Guy. Guy said by phone the reward is for information leading to an arrest or recovery of the beef.
The theft occurred around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, according to surveillance footage of the rustlers on County Road 419 near Englewood, according to a Sheriff's Office news release. The two vehicles in the footage were identified as a possible Dodge Ram pickup truck pulling a trailer and a Chevrolet Yukon.
"It's very rare," Guy said of rustling thefts in the county. "The last one was a good bit ago. It's not a hard thing to do -- cattle require a lot of property, and they're hard to watch."
Guy said investigators were chasing down leads.
"We're still getting some tips and following up on some things," said Guy, who has owned cattle in the past. "Most of us, we don't lock our gates. We just put a chain or rope on them. It's a crime of opportunity."
Generally, livestock thieves have to have help and a buyer, he said. The sheriff wasn't sure of the market price for beef cattle.
Sometimes, stolen beef can be sold at livestock auctions, but often a buyer is already waiting with cash on hand, Guy said.
Law enforcement needs help from the public on livestock crimes, he said.
"Always report suspicious behavior," Guy said. "You see somebody loading up cattle that looks suspicious -- cattle, horses, any kind of livestock -- call us."
He also urged area residents with information on the stolen beef to pass along any tips. Anyone with information about the theft or location of the cattle should contact the McMinn County Sheriff's Office at 423-745-5622.