It wasn’t the New Year beginning that Kathy and Wayne Dowling had hoped for.
The Yass-based couple discovered 14 sheep missing from their Dalton property over the holidays.
The sheep were one-year-old, first-cross maiden ewes in “prime condition,” according to Mrs Dowling.
They would have been worth around $170-180 per head, according to Yass-based Elders agent, Philip White.
That’s a loss of well over $2000 for the Dowlings, with each ewe expected to produce several lambs later on, and not forgetting the cost of rearing the sheep over the past 12 months.
We’ve been slogging away, trying to keep the sheep in good condition - moving them around paddocks and feeding them hay and oats, and these people just come along and take the benefit.Mrs Dowling
It took two weeks for Mr and Mrs Dowling to notify the police, worried that the sheep may have escaped through a fence or wandered onto a neighbour’s property, rather than been stolen.
“Small amounts of stock taken like this are often not discovered until a mob is mustered, but significant enough to be of beneficial gain to a thief and a loss to a farmer,” Mrs Dowling said.
“We had shorn the sheep back in September and there were 41 then. Our son brought them back in November and there were still forty-one. Then we mustered them on December 10 and there were only twenty-seven.
“It would be even more difficult to know if anything was missing in larger mobs.”
Many farmers, like the Dowlings, also don’t live on the property or live inland from the road to the property, making it challenging to spot trespassers.
“A lot also don’t report theft, because once the stock has been taken – unless there are any witnesses who saw the vehicles – it is almost impossible to find the stock or thieves,” Mrs Dowling said.
This is a common theme among victims of rural crime, however, it’s best to report sooner rather than later, according to Goulburn-based rural crime officer, Detective Senior Constable Mick Calleja.
A handful of others in the Crookwell and Goulburn areas have reported stock and property theft and breaks to gate locks in the past week on community Facebook pages. However, Senior Constable Calleja said not all of them had been reported to the police.
A property owner out at Milvale, near Young, believes that 190 long-wool ewes were taken on Wednesday. Thieves could now shear the sheep to sell the wool.
As if the horrible drought conditions haven’t been bad enough for farming families to contend with over the past two years.Milvale property owner Amanda Caldwell
“It’s a situation that just makes me so furious; not only have we lost the animals that we’ve cared for in the past three to six years, it’s also the flow-on effect – no sheep, no wool, no lambs,” Amanda Caldwell said.
Senior Constable Calleja said it would not be considered as wasting police time if the stock were found later on.
Get in touch with your local police as soon as you identify stock as missing. If they are discovered, later on, the report can be updated.Senior Constable Calleja
One of the Dowlings’ neighbours, Louise Walsh, had noticed two utes driving on her property with spotlights late at night, on December 8. However, they weren’t aware that any sheep had gone missing at the time.
“The amount is small enough that it could have easily been loaded onto a ute, trailer or float,” Mrs Dowling said.
“We’re now investing in cameras on the entrance to the property because unless they cut a fence, they’ve got to come through a gate.”
Cameras will cost the Dowlings between $500-600.
“It’s not a cheap alternative,” Mrs Dowling said, but it is cheaper than the loss of their stock.
As soon as farmers think stock has gone missing, they should also inspect their property, including fences and gateways for damage or breaks to the locks, as well as tyre markings and signs of yard usage, Senior Constable Calleja said.
He also recommended installing CCTV, particularly if a farmer has had previous issues with crime, and locking gateways.
It’s thought that rural crime is often committed by those who know the area and have the skills to take the livestock.
Thieves would need to be very good at mustering, especially at night, as well as have good dogs and transport, according to Yass-based grazier Sam Bucknell.
“It would take about 15 minutes with good dogs,” Mrs Dowling said, estimating how long it would have taken to steal their sheep.
“Speaking to our neighbour, she seemed to think that whoever was on her property had a pretty good knowledge of the set-up of the grounds.
“Whoever is doing it would also have to have access to their own ear tags.”
All of the Dowlings’ stolen sheep were tagged.
Each ear tag carries a Property Identification Code (PIC), which allows livestock to be tracked to their original location. However, each tag is secured by a small, plastic loop through the animal’s ear and can easily be removed by thieves.
We need to come up with a better tagging system.Kathy Dowling
“Something like micro-chips,” Mrs Dowling said.
It’s also easy for stock to go missing, according to Senior Constable Calleja.
“It’s hard times; there’s not a whole lot of food out there and stock looking for food will walk for miles,” he said.
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