A Cavan farmer whose family had more than 100 sheep stolen last week, believes it’s “highly likely” the missing animals are destined for slaughter at an illegal abattoir and the meat could enter the food chain illegally.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” says Tony Smith from Castlerahan, concerning the theft from lands at Ross near Mountnugent between Monday-Thursday, June 10-13.
When The Anglo-Celt spoke with Tony on Monday afternoon last, he was returning from the 50 acre farm having just conducted a full check of the boundary for “evidence” of how the rustlers got away.
“I couldn’t find a bloody hate, not one hate,” he said.
Tony believes a truck or possibly trucks were used to conduct the thefts, and that the gang were “well organised and clearly knew what they were doing”.
“They’d done this before I’m certain of that. They knew the area, they knew the roads, you could call them laneways so narrow are they, and they knew how to get away from there without being seen. Nobody saw anything.”
The stolen sheep belonged to Tony’s daughter Jolene and her husband Ciaran Smith, and he estimates the total loss at between €8-10,000.
“You take 40 odd finished lambs, at a minimum of €100 a head, and roughly the same number sheep, and you’re looking at something similar there as well.”
Jolene, he adds, is “cut up” by the loss and “unable to talk”.
To put it into perspective, Tony analogises that the theft is the equivalent to a person walking into any high street shop and simply leaving with half the stock for sale under their arm without paying.
“It’s the very same, bringing half the shop with you,” he says.
The thefts are the latest to occur in the region, following 25 cattle stolen from a farm in Drumalish, near Castleblayney, and another reported theft north of the Border in Newtownhamilton, Co. Armagh, both in May.
Some 210 cattle were stolen from a single owner in Co. Meath last November, with the total number of livestock illegally taken last year at almost 350 nationally.
Tony says Ciaran has since reached out to local factories and marts in the hope of tracking the animals down, but the family are losing hope fast.
“Not to create too much of a fuss but they might get them coming in,” states Tony. “But that didn’t happen. I’m just surmising but my thinking of it now is that it is these illegal abattoirs or whatever. They’ve gone another road altogether. It’s highly likely that’s what happened [to the sheep] now.”
Tony suspects the rustlers may have taken the mature sheep to help settle the lambs. If the lambs are frightened they could lose weight, and subsequently value.
There were close to 340 sheep and lambs in the field at the time the thefts took place, and he says several were left looking for their missing young when he went to check on the flock.
“There’s some effort in even gathering that number of sheep. [Jolene and Ciaran] are very upset, they really are. We all are. They’d been in the whole spring lambing those sheep, taking care of them and some of them being fed on bottles.
“You then get them out to grass and it’s all working towards getting a return out of them. That’s gone now. The whole thing is absolutely mind-boggling.
“We were considering offering a reward but I’ve my doubts by now it’d be much use, that was last Thursday, and they’re a week gone now. They could be any place.”
Gardaí are appealing to anyone with information or who may have witnessed any suspicious activity in the area to contact them.
The investigation is being led by Kells Garda Station in neighbouring Co Meath, and a spokesperson for the force confirmed the theft, while adding: “No arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing.”