Six much-loved pet lambs belonging to Wanganui school children were stolen at the weekend.
King Kong, Patches, Snowdrop, Little Kiwi, Bolt and Cocoa were snatched from their home in Kai Iwi School's orchard behind the school hall.
Yesterday morning everyone knew as they arrived at school that something was wrong. It was quiet - way too quiet.
Every morning when they heard the children arriving, all the lambs would start up a loud, bleating chorus and rush to the gate for a head rub and a back scratch.
Deputy head Jenny Foote said the orphaned lambs had been carefully nurtured since July, when they were just a day old, by the group of appointed children.
The orphaned lambs were sponsored by companies who provided the funds for their vital sacks of feed and milk powder.
Ms Foote said eventually the lambs would have been sent to the works and the money received would have been given to the school to provide next year's group of lambs and their feed.
The children had bottle-fed their lambs through the day and night in those first crucial weeks until their lambs were weaned, Ms Foote said.
"They had taken their lambs home for the weekends and for the school holidays. Nothing was too much trouble, because the lambs were very important to them."
According to one minder, Leo Jones, they were very cool lambs because they were all "patched", he said.
"They had very cool brown and black patches all over them and were so great to look at. We really, really liked our lambs a lot."
The young minders said their lambs were doing well and had been trained to trot after them on a lead and come when they were called.
"We stand at the gate and call 'laaammmby, lamby, lamby, lamby', and they always came to us," said Phoebe Brown.
Even though these pets were just on loan, the children were "totally gutted" their lambs had been stolen.
Even though they all have other pets at home, including dogs, cats, ponies and chickens, the lambs had become very important to them, they said.
"It's not really a good feeling to know our lambs have been stolen ... it needs to be investigated," Thomas Mackintosh said.
Headmaster Alastair White said if the lambs were returned to the school, no questions would be asked.
"Our kids would just love to have their lambs back, and it would be the decent thing to do."