Whether it’s a couple of sheep every fortnight or a whole truckload swiped through their own yards, Wairarapa farmers have had enough of rustlers helping themselves.
It’s a problem that’s not going away and it is shaving tens of thousands dollars off some farmers’ bottomlines putting a dent in what’s otherwise been a very good year.
Gladstone sheep and beef farmers Andrew and Lottie Rayner get so many thefts when their lambs are in their prime that they avoid putting the stock in roadside paddocks.
They estimate they would be aware of an incident about once a fortnight and they are often shining their spotlight at vehicles stopped by the road at night.
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“Our poor neighbour, because he’s only got small paddocks, he lost two thirds of his lambs last year,” Lottie Rayner said.
Federated Farmers Wairarapa president William Beetham has had hundreds of sheep stolen from his Wainuioru station east of Masterton and believes police should be doing more to investigate the thefts.
“Because of the amount of money involved I think it deserves a much higher focus,” he said.
On one occasion he had a whole paddock of sheep loaded up through his own cattleyards and whisked away on the back of a truck in the middle of the night.
It was not just the financial impact of those losses, which he estimated at more than $25,000 over the past year, but the knock-on effect it had on his staff who worked hard to make the farm profitable.
It had been a great season for lamb prices which made each theft sting even more.
Beetham said penalties needed to be stiffer and Federated Farmers was putting pressure on the Government to push through a bill that would give the law more clout.
In April Federated Farmers called for the Sentencing (Livestock Rustling) Amendment Bill to be further strengthened by allowing powers of seizure of vehicles and other equipment used in the crime.
This would be similar to what happened with poachers under the Fisheries and Wild Animal Control Acts.
Meat and wool chairman Miles Anderson said if stock thieves knew they could have to forfeit vehicles, firearms, trained working dogs and anything else used in the theft it would give them considerable pause.
“Moreover, if convicted rustlers lose such equipment, they can’t go back to such thieving any time soon, and that forfeited gear can be sold, meaning there is some money to reimburse the victims of the theft.”
New Zealand co-ordinator of community policing senior sergeant Alasdair MacMillan said they were aware of stock theft being an issue across rural communities.
“All complaints of stock theft are taken seriously and followed up as appropriate.”
Police encouraged rural property owners to make security a priority and ensure they were taking measures to help prevent thefts, he said.
Police did not have data on the number of stock theft incidents across New Zealand because they were generally classed as burglaries.
Rural insurer, FMG, said it had paid out $22.4 million on farmer theft claims in the last four years.
Community sergeant Ian Osland said stock theft in Wairarapa was a serious issue with up to 300 sheep being stolen in a single incident.
“That’s quite a significant loss which would require a fair bit of organisation to transport them.”
He said criminals often saw it as an “easy option” to get meat or bump up their stock numbers.
“I think there are two different camps. There is the person who is stealing for their freezer to get them through, then there is probably the other aspect where they’re trying to keep a business afloat and they’ve needed to supplement their own flock.”
He said there had been recent reports of cattle going missing, including bulls.