Paul Kitagaki Jr./ pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Louie Azevedo brands a 75-day-old calf as rancher Mark Beck, right, holds down the animal. Justin Wright, sits on his horse, while Billy McDonald and Roger Thomasson assist with branding, vaccinations, tagging and castration of over 600 Black English Cross cattle at Steffan Ranch in Lodi. Cattle theft has risen 22 percent since pre-recession levels and has been helped by a steady rise in cattle prices where a head of cattle can sell for as much as $1,000. Mark Beck is a rancher near Lodi. He has had four steers stolen this year from his ranches in Sacramento, San Joaquin and Calaveras County

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