In Australia, such stealing is often referred to as duffing, and the person as a duffer. In North America, especially in cowboy culture, cattle theft is dubbed rustling and an individual who engages in it is a rustler.
Historically, the act of cattle rustling is quite ancient, with the first suspected raids conducted over seven thousand years ago.
Cattle raids play an important part in Indo-European mythology, see for example Tain Bo Cuailinge (Irish), the Rigvedic Panis (India), and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, who steals the cattle of Apollo (Greece).
These myths are often paired with myths of the abduction of women (compare Helen, Sita, Saranyu, The Rape of the Sabine Women). Abduction of women and theft of livestock were practiced in many of the world's preurbanized cultures, the former likely reaching back to the Paleolithic, and the latter to the earliest domestication of animals in the Neolithic.
American Old West
In the American Old West, rustling was considered a serious offense, and it did frequently result in lynching by vigilantes.
Mexican rustlers were a major issue during the American Civil War, with the Mexican government being accused of supporting the habit, as it was for the American rustlers stealing Mexican cattle from across the border. Failure to brand new calves facilitated theft.
Conflict over alleged rustling was a major issue in the Johnson County War in the U.S. state of Wyoming.
The transition from open range to fenced grazing gradually reduced the practice of rustling in North America. In the 20th century, so called 'suburban rustling' became more common, with rustlers anesthetizing cattle and taking them directly to auction. It often takes place at night, posing problems for law enforcement because on very large ranches it can take several days for loss of cattle to be noticed and reported. Convictions are rare to nonexistent.
Cattle raiding became a major issue at the end of the 19th century in Argentina, where cattle stolen during malones were taken through Rastrillada de los chilenos across the Andes to Chile, where they were exchanged for alcoholic beverages and weapons. Several indigenous groups, and outlaws such as the Boroanos and Ranqueles tribes and the Pincheira brothers, ravaged the southern frontier of Argentina in search of cattle. To prevent the cattle raiding, the Argentine government built a system of trenches called Zanja de Alsina in the 1870s. Most cattle raids ended after the military campaigns of the Conquest of the Desert, and the following partition of Patagonia by Chile and Argentina established by the 1881 Border Treaty.
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Notes by the Blog Author
American ranchers can and do purchase insurance against losses from cattle rustling. However, most such insurance includes a "mysterious disappearance" clause. The mysterious disappearance clause denies loss by theft unless the rancher observes the cattle being stolen. When the rancher is not an eyewitness, then the loss of the cattle is regarded as mysterious, and such claims are denied by the insurer.
There is a very thorough and ironic analysis of American cattle rustling in the amusing, mid-seventies movie Rancho Deluxe. It is still worth seeing.
It has been falsely assumed that cattle rustling is an extinct crime that no longer takes place. However, rustling seems to be slowly increasing in frequency, especially when the American economy is stagnant or in recession.
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Rustlers kill cattle overloading trailerBy Drovers CattleNetwork News Source -- February 18, 2011
KFOR Channel 4 reports 14 stolen cattle were returned to an Oklahoma rancher, but a few died when thieves, who are still on the loose, loaded the trailer too tightly.
Thieves abandoned the trailer after getting a flat tire. The Garvin County Sheriff’s department and Department of Agriculture found the trailer containing 16 cattle Thursday evening.
Rustlers stacked animals on top of each other and loaded the cattle so tightly that four had their front legs sticking out of the sides of the trailer. Two cattle died under the packed conditions.
The brands on the animals had already been altered but investigators we able to track down the owner.
The suspects are identified as two white men and a white woman driving a late-model black Dodge truck. They face charges of animal cruelty and theft.