Aside from a few weeks of high-spirited, boot-scootin' homage to Texas' agricultural heritage during the trail ride and Rodeo season, the state's cattle industry stays out of sight and out of mind for most of us in the big city.

That's little short of amazing, considering the size and economic impact of the cattle industry in this corner of Texas and all across the state. It's a behemoth — the nation's largest, with 14 million cattle and calves — and it contributes billions of dollars annually to the state's economy.

This doesn't happen somewhere far away. A Texas map overlaid with shaded depictions of the cattle census county by county shows that Houston is surrounded by cattle country. And it wasn't so long ago that Harris County itself was among the state's largest cattle-raising counties. No question, this is still cattle country.

These are not the flushest of times for cattle raisers in Texas, according to Dave Scott of the Southwest Texas Cattle Raisers Association, the industry group whose duties range from promoting interests in the legislative arena in Austin to supervising law enforcement personnel who guard against livestock theft. Between the enduring drought across much of the state and the economic downturn, profit margins have been thin. The situation has been further aggravated by a noticeable increase in cattle thefts that has been especially frustrating to curtail, according to a recent Chronicle story by reporter Jennifer Latson.

Cattle theft gets expensive quickly. City slickers may not realize it, but a young cow, with her best calf-bearing years ahead, is worth $700 to $1,000. The cattle raisers will get some help with deterring theft and keeping repeat offenders behind bars come Sept. 1, courtesy of the Texas Legislature. That's when cattle theft changes from a state jail felony to a third-degree felony for the theft of less than 10 head of cattle, punishable by 10 years in prison.

To read the entire article, link here.