HARRISON — Tiko’s job was a monthlong stint at a Harrison farm, promising lush fields overlooking hazy green-grey mountains and plenty of hay, grass and grain, his favorite.

The 1,300-pound Pinzgauer bull was brought from Windham to breed cows at Harriet and Terry Thoms’ 125-acre spread on a ridge above Long Lake. But in late July, a week into the job, Tiko vanished without a trace. That got his family wondering: Who’d want to steal a bull?

For the past decade, the Thomses have raised cows for milk and meat, and at any time, they have a 70-head herd between barns and pasture. 

In mid-July, Harriet’s parents, Kathy and Clayton Haskell of Pleasant River Farm in Windham, drove their rare, 3-year-old stud bull to breed with the Thomses’ cows.

Pinzgauers, which were first bred hundreds of years ago in the Austrian Alps, are an uncommon breed and weren’t introduced to the U.S. until 1974, according to the American Pinzgauer Association.

On Saturday, July 23, Harriet let the bull and cows — she calls them “the ladies” — out in a pen just off the barn surrounded by a short electric fence. Then she drove to New York.

When she returned later that day, Tiko was gone.

Her family scoured the area, but there was no trace of him. Oddly, the electric fence appeared unperturbed.

Sunday came and went and still nothing. Neighbors, some of whom raise cattle or have large, open farms of their own, saw nothing. A neighbor with an airplane buzzed overhead but might as well have looked for mice. 

Tiko had never gotten out before, Harriet and Kathy said. Moreover, he was friendly, accustomed to being shown in county fairs.

Tiko was no rover, wild and in search of freedom — he liked his bucket of grain. And if he’d gotten out on his own, surely “the ladies” would have followed.

Which is when it dawned upon the family: Did someone steal Tiko? 

Cattle rustling is an old crime that conjures images of lassos and spurs, of cowboys and lawlessness, but it remains a common and even increasing problem in southern and western states, where huge herds sometimes lose tens, even hundreds of cattle. 

Usually cattle theft fluctuates in relation the price of beef, and though prices are substantially lower than the 2014 high, they’ve been on the rise since January.

But that has Animal Control Officer Jacquie Frye confused. Whoever heard of eating a bull? 

Cattle thefts here go either unreported or are relatively rare. Maine had 86,000 cattle at the 2012 agricultural census, and only 16 states had fewer, according to the website Cattle Network. Law enforcement in Aroostook and Penobscot counties, which have some of the highest cattle counts, couldn’t find records of outright theft.

In Oxford County, the closest instance that Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor could recall was a man who stole a horse and rode it home drunk.

Frye, who’s asked local butchers and auctioneers to be on the lookout, said, “This is a first for me. It’s not the norm.” 

Though bulls “can go through anything,” they typically don’t wander off on their own, Frye said. More likely, someone scoped out the Thomses’ farm and waited until they were gone. Most likely, they took Tiko to another state.

But why anyone would single out the Thomses’ farm remains an open question. Frye wondered if they had enemies. 

Whoever they were, Tiko’s trail has gone cold. There’s been just one tip in the case: a neighbor reported hearing a truck drive away while the Thomses were out. 

“All I’ve got to go on is, it’s a pickup truck,” Frye said. “I have a pickup truck.” 

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