If you ever needed proof of the perils of social media, then look no further than the case of the 500 missing and/or stolen dairy cows in Mid Canterbury.
Perhaps rather naively, a well-intentioned farm administrator posted on Facebook that she had lost 500 cows. I'm assuming this was after exhausting other options such as checking thoroughly with all the neighbours and then reporting the alleged theft to the police.
What followed was yet another example of why social media can be ugly. Conspiracy dairy theories abounded. Examples included; it was an inside job, it was an insurance jack up, it was an act of vengeance from a disgruntled former employee, it was the result of a huge unpaid winter grazing debt.
Most of the damning posts have been removed but one on our Facebook page was typical of the less-than-sympathetic offerings. "Bullshit. Sounds like someone was cooking the books and decided to 'write off' 500 cows. You can't steal 500 cows without someone noticing".
At the time of writing I think we can dispel most of the aforementioned conspiracy theories.
My understanding is the farm managers are mortified, there was no insurance against stock theft and the cows were grazing on adjacent farms owned by the same corporate owners.
If it was an inside job from an employee or former employee, then that person was either extremely cocky or extremely stupid.
This is a sad and bad story for three reasons. Firstly, for the unsympathetic and downright nasty response from the keyboard warriors who troll social media. Secondly, that the management systems on the farms weren't able to pick up the bleeding obvious - that at some stage during the winter grazing period there were 500 less mouths to feed.
And finally, that someone or thing has the audacity and the capacity to flog 500 cows, almost in broad daylight, despite the crime probably being perpetrated under the cover of darkness!
As for the likely motive behind the audacious disappearance, I'm going with Federated Farmers Dairy Chair Andrew Hoggard who reckons the cows have ended up in the city meat black market. Personally I can think of better things to chew on than a seven year old dairy cow but there are plenty less discerning and there are certainly plenty who are less scrupulous.
There can be no denying livestock theft is now a burgeoning industry. In the past it's been sheep and beef farmers who have borne the brunt as their stock have been more likely to be grazing down a deserted back road. Now those farming more intensively in more highly populated areas need to keep a wary eye out as well.
I hate to openly admit it but there's been an element of sophistication around this extraction operation. Unfortunately it's just a sign of the troubled times we live in and an example of yet another potential problem facing farmers.
On to matters more pleasurable. I need to declare an interest because one of the upcoming programs is about The Country radio show and my old rugby club Riversdale but I have to admit to enjoying the new series on Country TV, Rugby in our Blood.
The first of 12 episodes was about the entrepreneurial Coastal Rugby club in South Taranaki. How many rugby clubs can say they own a farm? What Coastal Rugby did was the catalyst for the Taranaki union leasing a dairy farm to fund the development of rugby. They are now the envy of the other 25 rugby unions.
Last week featured Northland beef farmer David Holwell, the former Hurricanes first five-eighth, your archetypal country boy who made the big time but remained totally unaffected by it. I'm looking forward to the episode featuring former Counties legend and farmer Jim Coe and the show featuring the role rugby plays at the Smedley Station Cadet Training Farm in Central Hawkes Bay.
Back in the day when I was a young farmer I used to dread the end of the footy season because it meant another six months before I could again inhale the unique whiff of liniment, hear the clatter of tags on concrete, go to battle with the neighbouring village and savour the incomparable camaraderie of rugby with your mates. And the end of rugby meant the onset of lambing.
To the young farmers of New Zealand currently going through cold turkey from rugby with the prospect of nothing but work for the next two months, I feel your pain. When you're young and keen the next season seems to take an eternity to roll round. Take the opportunity to get a bit fitter in the off season and remember to watch Rugby in our Blood on Country TV over the next couple of months to remind yourself why you so love our national game.