A Canterbury farm is devastated after 500 of their dairy cows worth around $1 million have gone missing.

Farm administrator Pennie Saunders posted on Facebook to try and track down the missing herd.

"We have had approximately 500 cows stolen from our large dairy farm in the Ashburton area."

Saunders told the Herald the "phenomenal" theft was first noticed in late August but could have taken place earlier.

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"It's significant, it's huge, there's no joking about it. We're now focused on coming up with a farm management plan on how to manage it, to be able to cope.

"We're not wanting to be a sob story, we just want if anyone knows anything about it then get in contact with the police."

Saunders said it has hit the farm's shareholders hard. She estimates the cows are worth around $2000 each as they are in calf and have been fed well over winter. They have a herd of 1300.

Saunders knows three or four other farms in the area have been affected by livestock theft.

"I've never heard of anything as significant as this... People generally take a truck-load."

A lot of people on social media have asked "how could you not notice?" said Saunders. But she explains that at that this time of year there's a lot of stock movement, with the cows divided and not all of them milking meant it wasn't visually obvious.

"That number of cows could be grazing at three different properties as well as having animals on the dairy platform.

"Late last week we became aware we were short on cows as we noticed production was down."

Canterbury Police received a report on August 25 that up to 500 cows had been stolen from an Ashburton farm. They are making inquiries.

If anyone has information which may be of use please contact Canterbury Police on 03 363 7400 and quote file number 160825/7150 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.