A spate of livestock thefts across northern and eastern Victoria has prompted a warning from detectives following multiple reports of stolen sheep in recent months.
Mixed-farming enterprises are being targeted in what police believe may be calculated and coordinated attacks on rural properties, and could potentially involve the use of working dogs to round up the sheep.
Yarrawonga farmer Kevin Keenan lost two-dozen sheep between July 8 and 29 and says the incident has cost him and his son, Kieran, and father Brian, about $5000.
"My son and I run a small lamb fattening enterprise and we managed to have some lambs fat and ready to go," Mr Keenan said.
"We took the tops out of them, and sold 264, and had 173 lambs left.
"Only two-and-a-half weeks later we got them back into the yards and we only had 150 lambs."
The White Suffolk/Merino-cross, Charollais/Merino-cross and Southdown/Merino-cross lambs were 10-months-old and had been bought months earlier via AuctionsPlus from Euroa.
"They were making $220 a head so that's $5000 down the tube real quick," Mr Keenan said.
"My son has gone through his figures and we think we could be as much as 58 lambs short by going through the numbers of what we've bought and sold."
He said there were no signs of forced entry to the Kennan Road property, but he believes the lambs might have been stolen via a cropping paddock.
"Traditionally we have our gates locked but they were behind the cropping paddock which was unlocked so they weren't even right on the road," he said.
"Every year we seem to lose lambs but normally it's that long from when they might have been stolen to when you count them so you don't worry about it."
The Keenans run a mixed-farming operation which consists of fat lambs, cattle and cropping, including canola, wheat and barley, across about 570 hectares.
Mr Keenan said he was certain the lambs had been stolen as he had only counted the mob 15 days' earlier.
"Unless we highlight what's going on, we've got no chance of catching these crooks," he said.
Farmer estimates $10,000 worth of livestock was stolen
West of Yarrawonga, Strathmerton farmer Phillip Ross-Soden estimates he lost $10,000 worth of livestock overnight in June.
The sheep and cropping farmer said he was angered by the incident.
"I go around my property everyday and look at my sheep and I noticed some stock had been taken out a gate because it was muddy," Mr Ross-Soden said.
"I lost 14 first-cross ewes and 32 lambs by Dorset rams so they would've had a rough value of $10,000."
"We've lost the odd one or two over the years and that's just part of life, we know it goes on, but when you get that sort of amount stolen you feel very mad."
Stock & Land is also aware of several livestock thefts in Victoria's high country, mostly around the Omeo district.
Cobram Crime Investigations Unit detective senior constable Charles Ryall said historically speaking, livestock thefts had been more associated with western Victoria, but police had noticed an increase in thefts in the north-east since June.
"It's mainly targeting fat lambs ready for market and we see lots of 20 to 30 being stolen," he said.
"From what farmers tell us, it's consisted with a tandem trailer which is easy to manoeuvre and purpose built for those numbers."
He said farmers needed to report suspected incidents of livestock theft, even if they were unsure of the time or dates the incident took place.
He said the increased value of livestock could also be a driving factor.
"The people doing this would have to have a good knowledge of stock and have working dogs that they're able to swiftly use and round up the numbers," he said.
"We also urge farmers to count stock more often."
Detective Senior Constable Ryall also urged farmers to speak to their local farm crime prevention officers about more tips on how to secure rural properties.
The story Farmer fury: sheep stolen in northern and eastern Victoria first appeared on Stock & Land.