Dairy cows grazing on farm in New Zealand© Nick Servian/robertharding/Rex/Shutterstock

Police in New Zealand are investigating the theft of 500 dairy cows from a farm in Ashburton on South Island, which is believed to be the worst case of cattle rustling in the country’s history.

The crime, which has captured the attention of the world’s media because of its scale, is thought to have taken place sometime in late July or August.

The exact date remains unknown because there are more than 1,300 cows on the farm and it was not until they had a full count of the animals that they realised so many had gone missing.

See also: Farm vehicle spot checks target livestock rustling

The farm has explained that the theft took place over a period when there were lots of stock movements, the cows were divided into groups and not all were milking, so it was not immediately obvious.

Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, farm administrator Pennie Saunders said the theft would hit the farm hard, with the cattle worth up to $2,000 each.

“It’s significant, it’s huge, there’s no joking about it. We’re now focused on coming up with a farm management plan on how to manage it, to be able to cope.

“We’re not wanting to be a sob story, we just want if anyone knows anything about it then get in contact with the police,” she said.

Multiple thefts

Senior sergeant Scott Banfield from Ashburton Police said it was unlikely the theft of hundreds of animals could be completed in one go and it was more likely that multiple thefts had been carried out over a period of time.

“All farmers should be checking their boundaries and fence lines on a regular basis,” he said.

“Regardless of the size of your property, ideally stock numbers should be checked once a week.

“Farmers should also be keeping an eye out for unexpected signs of herding near their boundary lines too.”

It is not the first time that farmers in the region have fallen victim to cattle rustlers.

In December 2015, more than 120 animals were taken from three separate farms in the South Canterbury area.

One of the largest rustling incidents in the UK took place in August 2015 when 300 sheep and 120 cattle were stolen from farmland in Lincolnshire.