An increase in livestock being stolen across Gippsland has devastated local farmers.
In the latest incident, Ensay North farmer, Chris Commins, had 17 head of cattle swiped in a brazen theft from a property at Driffield in the Latrobe Valley over the weekend.
The Angus and Black Baldy cows had been yarded on Friday in readiness for Mr Commins to pick up on Saturday morning.
However, upon arriving at the paddock at the intersection of Buckleys Track and Blacks Track at 7am, Mr Commins discovered them missing.
The beef cattle were valued at $1400-$1500 each and have distinctive markings on their rumps.
Mr Commins said the clear freeze brand, 77, on their left rump was easily identifiable and would make it difficult for the thieves to onsell.
The cows also had big earmarks linking them back to his property, which he said would be almost impossible to remove.
“They couldn’t really take them off, they’d have to cut their ear out,” Mr Commins said.
While stealing the cattle between 6.30pm on Friday and 7am on Saturday, the thieves left behind 116 cows and 130 calves which Mr Commins said the cows would be pining for.
Because of the drought and bushfires, Mr Commins had sent the stock to Driffield for agistment where the feed was plentiful and was preparing to return them to Ensay on Saturday.
He believes the thieves would have known the stock had been yarded and had access to a truck in order to take them away.
“They were mature age cows and the thieves have taken what they could load on easily and quickly,” Mr Commins told the Advertiser.
“I’ve carried them for four years before the drought, bushfires and COVID, so it’s very disappointing to have them stolen.
“They’ll want good fences to keep them in because they’ll be looking for their calves.”
Mr Commins suspects a local cattle rustler is behind the theft and most likely used “a cow cocky truck”.
“This was extremely brazen, it’s very difficult to get in and out of those yards, so this is someone with serious local knowledge,” he said. Mr Commins said his cattle had now been “red flagged all over the country, so I’m hoping whoever took them will put them out somewhere so I can get them back”.
In the High Country, cattle and sheep have been disappearing near Omeo in recent weeks. At least 12 head of cattle and about 50 lambs have disappeared from three different properties in close proximity to one another, north-west of the township.
“It’s starting to become very suspicious as it’s such a common occurrence now,” David Hill, from Elders Real Estate in Omeo, told the Advertiser.
Mr Hill believes the offender is someone involved in the livestock industry.
“It’s got to be someone intelligent of the industry,” he said.
Mr Hill said the number of livestock missing had been calculated over the past six weeks.
He believes the thieves are strategically stealing small numbers of livestock over a period of time so as not to raise suspicion of foul play.
“One or two cows will go missing, then two steers from a different paddock and then four cows and some calves disappear from another paddock and on it goes,” he said.
Mr Commins told the Advertiser it’s possible professional “cattle duffs” were at play in the local area.
“Cattle are expensive, so it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said.
Omeo police told the Advertiser they are aware of reports of livestock disappearances and have urged locals to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.
✩ BENGWORDEN SHEEP DISAPPEAR
Bengworden sheep farmer, Rick Robertson, had 145 Merino weaners stolen some time in January.
Valued at $25,000, Mr Robertson said he had counted the sheep in December and noted they were all accounted for.
However, following a count in January, Mr Robertson realised many were gone.
“It’s disappointing we’ll never know where they went,” he said.
The sheep all had ear tags with the property identification but Mr Robertson concedes they could be easily removed.
“Being plastic, it is easy to remove them and replace with someone else’s tag.”
Mr Robertson said he had thought a lot about how the rustlers would have taken his sheep and admits it may not have been that hard.
He says an unlocked gate on Aitkens Road would have allowed for the arrival of a truck to go unnoticed.
“With a decent dog and a few portable panels to make a little yard, it would be easy to run them up on a small truck on a moonlit night,” Mr Robertson said.
“They could do it at three o’clock in the morning and I wouldn’t know, the house is two kilometres away and there’s no one living nearby.”
The Robertsons were stung in a similar circumstances 10 years ago, losing 300 sheep.
“It’s very common now that livestock prices are good, there’s more incentive for people to try their luck,” Mr Robertson said.
“I think the majority of livestock stolen are never recovered.”
While the Robertsons have reported the theft to police, they are still awaiting a visit from a rural crime investigator.
An Angus cow, similar to the 17 stolen from Ensay farmer, Chris Commins, over the weekend with their distinctive freeze brand on the left rump (inset). (PS)