In mid-November the Northcotts were hand-feeding molasses and hay to their cattle, as they do regularly, when Joy realised there were fewer than usual.
Counting them, she’d got to 45, but there should have been 68. About a third of the herd on their 300-acre property at Hydes Creek Rd in Valery was missing.
The absent cattle, mostly Black Angus, included a prize six-year-old bull and 22 breeding cows.
“I searched the whole property then,” John Northcott said. “I drove all around it. There’s an area of bush so I searched all that. We rang all the neighbours, then I searched the surrounding state forests for any indication of cattle tracks, cattle droppings or broken fences.”
John found no breaks in the fences, the front gate was locked as usual, and his neighbours had heard nothing.
He and Joy live in Bonville and also have a house on the Valery property that they visit frequently.
Closed circuit security footage revealed that the cattle went missing a month earlier, in mid-October. One day they were there, the next day they were not.
Their market value would be about $20,000 but in terms of lost breeding potential, they’d be worth $50,000.
John thinks it’s likely that thieves parked a truck on the eastern frontage to Hydes Creek Rd, cut the fence and lured the cattle through, then repaired the fence to cover their tracks.
The police, including a Grafton detective specialising in stock theft, are investigating, notices have been posted on Facebook and this week John put classified advertisements in local papers offering a $5000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.
He says his phone ran so hot on Monday with requests for media interviews that it burnt out the battery and that he and Joy have been heartened by the many messages of support they’ve received.
Even so, the loss of the cattle has hit them hard emotionally.
“It’s gut wrenching,” he said. “They’re like your pets – you see them born, you feed them, you raise them, you look after them if they’re ill.”
To add insult to injury, wild dogs killed one of their calves just two days ago.
The farm has been in John’s family since it was bought by his great-grandfather in 1908.
“I just love having cattle,” he said. “But if you lose a third of your herd, it just makes you wonder whether it’s worthwhile.”
All the cattle had blue ear tags marked with N292 on their left ears and the Angus bull had a black and white NLIS tag in his right ear.
Anyone with information is urged to contact police or to call John Northcott on 0427400220.