Sheep reared to help raise funds for primary school camps have been stolen by rustlers, a Wanganui farmer says.
Sheep and beef farmer David Matthews, of Kakatahi, told the Wanganui Chronicle five of his animals had been taken from grazing land owned by the local YMCA.
"I graze a few of my ewes down at the YMCA camp. It helps with fundraising for Ngamatea school and their camps as they get to keep the lambs."
Mr Matthews discovered one ewe had been tangled in a fence and five were missing about two months ago: "The only way it would be tangled would be if someone had chased it into a corner. It does gut you, but I suppose it's a bit of a reality."
New Zealand's national farming body has lashed out at the underground meat trade for fuelling stock thefts and selling unsafe meat.
Mr Matthews said stock thefts tended to be rare in Kakatahi as it was fairly isolated. However that did not stop him from taking precautions.
"I have a pretty comprehensive security system ... and we are part of the community watch group."
Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said those participating in the "pub trade" were to blame for rustling.
"The most distressing thing we have is the theft of our animals. It is a constant issue and a constant concern for rural New Zealand."
Mr Wills, a Hawke's Bay farmer, said rustling was sometimes carried out by gangs, often armed with guns and knives. It usually happened in waves and was punishing for any farmer.
"A good ewe is $100-plus and a good cattle beast is easily $1000-plus. So it's a significant financial loss to farmers, but it's also the emotional cost."
Some farmers had found their own animals butchered and strewn across paddocks, Mr Wills said.
"Others have walked out to see someone shooting up their animals [and this is] what they use to make a living, what they need to pay the mortgage."
He warned that those buying into the "hot meat" market, popular amongst pub owners for its cheap prices, were taking a serious health risk.
"We are required to keep detailed record about any animal remedies and drenching we give.
"There are strict protocols about when we sell animals [and] there are things we call withholding periods, which prevent us from selling animals within a certain period to being drenched and receiving remedies."
Meat from rustled animals could contain drenching chemicals, posing a serious risk to health, he said.
And in an effort to combat rustling gangs, a formal agreement between Federated Farmers and police was signed last year.
"We now have a memorandum of understanding with the New Zealand police," Mr Wills said.
"Farmers need to be vigilant and report any stock which has gone missing or been taken."
This was important as many farmers hesitated to report crimes to police, which made it difficult to gauge how big the problem was, Mr Wills said.
"And under no circumstances, should farmers take the law into their own hands as they [rustling gangs] often come armed with guns, knives and dogs," he added.
Theft of animals from farms
Often carried out in gangs
Sheep and cattle are either killed on farms or taken away to be butchered in makeshift slaughter houses
The pub trade:
Cheap meat sold to pubs from stolen farm animals
Could contain chemicals from animal remedies and de-worming solutions which are harmful to humans
No hygiene protocols around meat from stolen animals