The Carillon - ONLINE EDITION
By: Jordan Ross
Posted: 03/7/2017 2:00 PM
The disappearance of 150 head of cattle has devastated a Zhoda-area ranching couple.
Juergen Schubert and Shirley Barca of New Country Ranch said cattle went missing on two separate occasions in March and September of last year. Subsequent counts during vaccination and pregnancy checks in May 2016 and January 2017 confirmed that herd numbers were down by 110 after the first instance and dropped by another 40 after the second.
Steinbach RCMP Staff Sgt. Harold Laninga confirmed an investigation into the cattle’s disappearance continues.
Schubert and Barca explained the first disappearance happened while they were away for three months during the winter. In their absence, a homesitter stayed at the house and the cattle operation was entrusted to a hired hand.
"We were in disbelief," said Barca. "We counted every herd. We hired a plane and flew over all of our land to make sure."
"You work hard, and then somebody comes and takes the cream off the milk," added Schubert.
New Country Ranch spans 4,240 acres, plus another 950 rented acres. With more than 800 head of cattle spread out across expansive pastures, it can be difficult to notice missing livestock right away, Barca said, adding gathering the whole herd is a large job done only when necessary.
Schubert estimated the value of the cattle at $220,000, plus $90,000 for the calves. "These were bred cows," Barca explained. "Therefore, we lost a calf crop that they were carrying."
The financial impact has prompted the couple to contemplate their future in the cattle business.
"We’re both over 65. We don’t have a lot of time to recover from a loss like that," she said.
"This may be another sign we should sell our cows," added Schubert. He has been ranching near Zhoda since 1990, and the couple’s twin sons have their own cattle operations.
Barca explained "cattle rustling" is a crime that requires expertise.
"This isn’t like taking a microwave," she said. "You have to have the wherewithal to move these cattle, you have to know how to handle them, load them, and what to do with them once you’ve got them."
The missing cattle were branded, Barca confirmed, but were not insured. She explained an insurance claim’s viability would hinge on brand inspection—a practice that is mandatory in other prairie provinces, but which Manitoba does not require. Local auction marts, which the couple said they have informed about the missing cattle, are not legally obligated to notify them if Schubert’s brand is spotted.
A representative for Manitoba Beef Producers confirmed that the Province of Manitoba does not have a brand inspector, and said that its members last voted on the matter in 2010. Schubert recalled cattle dealers who voiced strong opposition to mandatory brand inspection during meetings at that time.
A Manitoba Agriculture spokesperson acknowledged the province does not have a mandatory brand inspection program or brand inspector, but noted the province has a voluntary brand registry and that no recent requests have been made to implement a mandatory program.
Barca suspected that many Manitoban ranchers suffer cattle thefts in small numbers from time to time but do not report it to police because of embarrassment.
"People don’t want to say that their defenses were down and their cattle were stolen," she said.
In the meantime, the couple’s message to other cattle farmers is simple: brand your cattle, and speak up if your herd counts reveal a sudden drop.
Laninga also asked the public to report suspicious behaviour witnessed on or near cattle operations. He acknowledged the crime can be difficult to prosecute, but said those accused can face a charge of theft of cattle over or under $5,000.
Laninga said one other instance of cattle theft was recorded in 2016 and another in 2014.
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