500 cows rustled from New Zealand farm in unusual case

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2015, file photo, cows stand in a pen before they are milked on a dairy farm near Carterton, New Zealand. New Zealand police said Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, that they were investigating reports of the unlikely crime at a South Island farm. Locals said 500 milking cows could have been taken from the herd of 1,300 anytime between early July, when they were last counted, and late August. The stolen cows are worth about 750,000 New Zealand dollars ($543,000). (AP Photo/Nick Perry, File)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — How do you steal 500 cows?

Probably not all at once. That's according to New Zealand police, who said Tuesday that they were investigating reports of the unlikely crime at a South Island farm.

Locals said they'd never before heard of cattle rustling on such a massive scale. And that's in a nation that's home to some 10 million cows, more than double the number of people.

The farmer involved is feeling too sheepish to talk about what happened, according to friend Willy Leferink.

"He's absolutely gobsmacked, and deeply embarrassed," Leferink said. "If you had three-quarters of a million dollars go missing, you wouldn't want to talk about it either."

Leferink said each milking cow was worth about 1,500 New Zealand dollars ($1,090) and weighed more than half a ton. He said the cows could have been taken from the herd of 1,300 near the town of Ashburton anytime between early July, when they were last counted, and late August.

He said the cows weren't being milked because it was winter, but the farmer did notice they weren't chewing through as much feed as normal.

Police said the incident came as a reminder to farmers that they should be checking their fences and counting their stock regularly.

"It's unlikely the theft of hundreds of animals could be completed at once, and is more likely that multiple thefts could be carried out over a period of time," Senior Sgt. Scott Banfield said in a statement.

Leferink said a trailer-truck would need to be loaded 13 times over to move all the cattle.

"There have to be a number of people involved," Leferink said. "That's the biggest chance we have, of somebody cracking at some stage."

He said the thieves would face a tough time trying to fence the cows, because each one comes with an electronic identification tag in its ear. He said the tags could be removed, but that an honest dealer wouldn't buy a cow without a tag.

Leferink said farmers can sometimes be relaxed about security.

"They're good-natured and haven't got evil thoughts in them," he said. "This is very hard to deal with."

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