HILMAR — A recent spree of dairy cattle thefts worsened when a dairy owner discovered Monday morning that 16 more of his Jersey calves had vanished, the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau reported.
The crime occurred between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. at the dairy on August Road near Central Avenue. Roughly 20 bales of hay were stolen from a neighboring farm about the same time.
Dairy workers noticed the calves were missing when they saw hutches out of place and found another calf loose by a cornfield.
It was the second such theft in two weeks. On July 1, the same dairyman reported 10 calves had been stolen.
All of the calves are about a month old, weigh about 80 pounds and are valued at $1,000.
Charlene Borrelli, one of three coordinators for Hilmar Farm Watch, is confident the thieves don't intend to sell the calves as veal, but for their intended purpose of becoming dairy cows.
Hilmar Farm Watch, a very active and expansive rural neighborhood watch, reaches thousands of people who subscribe to its email alerts and Facebook posts.
The group works with the farm bureaus and sheriff's departments in Merced and Stanislaus counties, the Turlock Police Department and the California Highway Patrol to exchange information about rural crimes and educate its members.
Borrelli said rural crimes seem to go in cycles.
Last year, copper wire theft was a huge problem. Thieves would take 15 feet of copper wire from an irrigation pump and cause thousands in rewiring costs, said Mike Seward, another Farm Watch coordinator.
Seward, who owns an almond orchard, said he even had his pumps wired with aluminum and posted signs near them to that effect to deter criminals.
When copper wire theft finally started to slow down, daytime burglaries increased, Borrelli said. Much like burglaries in the cities, criminals knocked on doors, and if no one answered, they'd kick them open.
The most recent trend has been the theft of tractors, farm implements and now livestock. In addition to the recent calf thefts, Borrelli said 25 dairy goats were stolen at the beginning of the year and and a horse shortly after that.
The Stanislaus County sheriff's rural crimes detectives are investigating the theft of the calves. Police ask anyone with information to call Modesto Area Crimestoppers at (209) 521-4636 or text a tip to "274637" and include TIP704.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.