Alex Haefele and a partner got into the cattle business less than a year ago. His heart sank Saturday when he saw the broken lock on his cattle gate on Benfield Road outside York. It looked like someone hit it hard with a hammer.
"It's a sickening feeling," Haefele said. "Our loss is probably $25,000 to $35,000."
The two men have 400 acres, and until this weekend, they had 118 head of beef cattle. Now there are 103, as someone managed to make off with 15 of them.
"You feel violated. And in this day and age you don't think about cattle-rustling being alive and well in York County," Haefele said.
On Saturday, they found sweet feed on the ground where it looked like someone lured the cows into a containment area where they could herd them into waiting trailers.
Missing are nine black Angus cows with ear tags, and six white Charolaise, some with horns, that were branded.
Before they reported any animals stolen they checked all five gates and the fences to make sure they didn't simply escape. They were all secure.
Based on the size and weight of the animals, Haefele said it's like someone stealing 100,000 hamburgers.
"There's no tag, no title, no VIN number on them," Haefele said. "They are hard to trace. The animals can go immediately to the slaughterhouse."
Just like other kinds of thieves, it's likely the cattle were dumped fast, for quick cash, similar to the way stolen metal ends up at a scrapyard.
There's a heavy new chain and a new lock on the gate now, but it's little consolation.
In better news, Haefele said other York County cattle farmers are aware of the crime, and are helping by looking for cows marked with his specific brand.
"I just want to thank them," he said. "I want to thank everyone that's been helping us try and get our animals back."
York County sheriff's investigators are on the case, but have not yet released any further information about the crime.
If you have any information about the theft, you're asked to call York County Crimestoppers at 1-877-409-4321.