The theft of six, very young early season spring lambs from a property in Takapau could prove to be the start of the rustling season, local police fear.
The 10-day-old Wiltshire-East Friesian cross lambs were stolen from a farm on Ormondville-Takapau Rd last week on Tuesday, August 7.
CHB Community Constable Glynn Sharp said it was the first reported stock theft from a farm in the district for some time.
"However, we are getting to the time of year when it usually starts happening. There are plenty of hand reared calves and lambs around, which means that they are easier to catch as they don't have any fear of humans," he said.
Still, it was uncommon for such young lambs to be stolen, he said.
"They are very young lambs and will require bottle feeding. The thieves often wait until they have been weaned, or close to weaning, before stealing them, when all the hard work is done."
Though prices for prime lamb are at record levels, currently sitting above $8/kg and rising up to $8.40kg once shorn pelts are factored in, Sharp did not believe there much of an organised black market for stolen lambs, which were most likely destined for a backyard butcher's block.
He said there was more of a market for young beef cattle.
"Calves will more than likely be stolen for resale due to their high value, whereas lambs are often fattened in the backyard for homekill later," said Sharp, who urged stock owner to keep animals in less accessible areas of their farms to avoid being targeted.
"From a police point of view, rural areas are very difficult to keep an eye on because of the vast nature of our area.We can't be everywhere at once. Also because of the sparse population around here, burglars and thieves get to go about their activities without being seen or disturbed, so a lot of these offences are not discovered until days later."
Rustling costs tens of millions
Federated Farmers' Meat and Wool chairperson Miles Anderson said the costs of stock theft nationally was well into the tens of millions of dollars every year.
"Thefts range from hundreds of animals taken in planned raids using trucks etc., to thefts over time by staff, to the slaughter of cattle beasts and sheep in the farm paddocks by opportunists looking for free meat – and all levels of rustling and theft in between."
He said just one rural insurer, FMG, told a Fed Farmers' rural security seminar it had paid out $22.4 million to farmers in a four-year period for insurance claims for stolen stock and gear.
But Anderson said the true costs of rustling might not be fully known. A 2014 Federated Farmers survey found only 39 per cent of stock thefts were reported.
"Farmers don't always report thefts to police out of a mistaken belief that police aren't particularly interested, or that the theft may have occurred days or weeks previously and would be considered by police to be 'old news'," said Anderson. Stock thefts were sometimes only noticed by farmers when animals were shifted to new paddocks or rounded up for shearing or drenching.
"We have worked hard to encourage Feds members to report all thefts, as it will give useful intelligence to local police on theft patterns, and adds to the case for more police dedicated to rural areas," he said.
Constable Sharp said other recent crimes targeting farms in and around CHB included theft of 10 hay bales from a shed on Sydney Tce in Takapau on August 2. Aa Suzuki 750cc quad bike with a red tool box on the front was stolen from a dairy farm in the Norsewood area, while at Elsthorpe, a Honda generator was stolen from a woolshed.
"Farm owners, make sure your high value equipment is kept secure," Constable Sharp said.