Rustling takes per­sonal toll

South Waikato News - - SPORT - By BECK ELEVEN

There ex­ists a ro­man­tic no­tion of the out­law rustler – a lone man and his dog un­der a moon­lit sky. Sheep rustling sounds like one of the most an­cient and quaint of crimes. We even named a beau­ti­ful part of our coun­try af­ter one; the Macken­zie Coun­try in South Can­ter­bury takes its name from James Macken­zie, a Scot­tish shepherd-turned-rustler who, was caught driv­ing 1000 sheep through the basin in 1855.

These days, Ki­wis must cop his or her fair share of sheep jokes, but as any farmer who has been robbed of their flock will tell you, it is no laugh­ing mat­ter.

In fact, one Ro­torua farmer who had been hit by stock thieves six times in a year said it could re­sult in homi­cide, know­ing his rustlers used firearms which had left his sheep ‘‘run­ning around with bul­let holes’’.

It’s not just sheep, ei­ther. Karen Phillips, a Hawke’s Bay sheep and beef farmer, had calves stolen in three sep­a­rate in­ci­dents over a month. They were all taken from a graz­ing pad­dock which had homes nearby, in­clud­ing that of her part­ner’s 92-year-old fa­ther.

‘‘The au­dac­ity of it. The whole se­cu­rity thing, too. People could have been put at risk,’’ she says.

‘‘We worked hard to get those an­i­mals to where they were. We’d done ev­ery­thing right, tagged them, ev­ery­thing was kosher. There’s a sense of in­jus­tice that some­one could just take them from you. It’s the has­sle it causes.

‘‘And people look at you side­ways if too many have dis­ap­peared. A mate on a large sta­tion reck­ons he’s lost $1 mil­lion of stock over 10 years. And they’re cun­ning. They don’t want to be caught.’’

Fed­er­ated Farm­ers es­ti­mate stock theft could be cost­ing the coun­try up to $120 mil­lion a year. More than the fi­nan­cial cost, farm­ers say the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect is toxic re­sult­ing in fear, sleep dis­tur­bance and mis­trust in their of­ten small com­mu­ni­ties.

Ru­ral Sup­port Trust North Can­ter­bury co-or­di­na­tor Bar­bara McLeod said ‘‘people and trust’’ were at the heart of the crime.

‘‘If you’re los­ing sheep, you’re look­ing at ev­ery­one and that in­cludes your neigh­bour.’’

Stock theft, or rustling, in New Zealand largely falls into two cat­e­gories: Chancers who grab one or more an­i­mals from a herd for their freezer, and those who drive a more sub­stan­tial num­ber from the farm and who may have ac­cess to the farm books in a fraud-type oper­a­tion.

Given our ru­ral land­scape, there are plenty of beasts to choose from.

Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics New Zealand, the num­ber of dairy cat­tle last year was nearly 6.6 mil­lion and the num­ber of sheep, close to 31 mil­lion.

While the crime of rustling is classed as gen­eral theft, any­one found guilty of sell­ing on the meat black mar­ket can be charged un­der the An­i­mal Prod­ucts Act, fac­ing up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Bay of Plenty sheep and beef farmer Rick Pow­drell has first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of what the spec­tre of rustling can do to a fam­ily. In March, 2011 he no­ticed ve­hi­cle tracks into one of his pad­docks. A head count re­vealed two breed­ing rams were miss­ing from a mob of 30 sheep.

Six months later, more tracks were found. This time thieves had driven right into a pad­dock, mus­ter­ing a mob of 250 lamb­ing hoggets. Foul weather and high winds meant that in the con­fu­sion the lambs had be­come ‘‘mis­moth­ered’’ and were un­pro­tected. By the time he found them, 40 lambs lay dead.

‘‘By the third oc­ca­sion I was pretty hosed off. A lot of our pad­docks are on road frontage so I’d bought heavy duty chains and pad­locks. No ve­hi­cle was get­ting through my gate.’’

But the thieves climbed the fence and threw two more breed­ing rams over and down a bank.

Then, 12 months later, he spotted a car and a man near one of his pad­docks. He climbed over the fence and found a sheep hogtied on the grass.

As two men made their way back to the car Pow­drell cut the sheep loose, took down the car de­tails and hur­ried home to call po­lice.

As luck would have it, a pa­trol car was 8km away from his Te Puke farm. Two broth­ers were caught, charged and sen­tenced to 40 hours’ com­mu­nity ser­vice.

‘‘It has quite an ef­fect on your life. When it hap­pens, it’s at night. My sleep was atro­cious. My fam­ily were wor­ried, be­cause, of course, people like this of­ten have firearms and knives. It cost me in the vicin­ity of $10,000. And they were lo­cals, so it was dis­ap­point­ing.’’

HANDS OFF: Tak­ing stock from farms can be costly, both for the owner and the rustlers.

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