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Cattle rustling comes to Quebec as police investigate suspected theft of entire herd

Cattle rustling investigated

Jonathan Fortin woke up Friday morning to check on his herd of Black Angus cattle, only to find his field was empty.

Fortin, who co-owns Ferme ForThé in Quebec's Eastern Townships, said he initially thought his calves and cows might have got loose, but the presence of tire tracks and a fence that appeared to have been dismantled led him to conclude that something more sinister had occurred.

"All my herd — close to 75 animals — were stolen," he said in an interview Monday.

Quebec provincial police confirmed they're investigating what appears to be a case of modern cattle rustling. Police spokesman Louis-Philippe Ruel confirmed police opened a criminal investigation after arriving at the farm in Cookshire-Eaton, Que., on Friday and finding the cattle had "disappeared."

Ruel didn't say how police were planning to retrace the herd, but he noted the thieves would need to have access to equipment and a place to put the animals.

"You can't move that many livestock in a Honda Civic or a Toyota Corolla," he said in a phone interview.

Fortin figures the cattle were taken between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, while he was out working his second job. He said neighbours later reported seeing trailer lights and hearing a commotion in his field, but at the time they assumed it was buyers coming to pick up cattle.

He said the loss of about $200,000 worth of livestock represents a good portion of his savings and four hard years of work building up his farm.

"There's a lot of emotion, because even if it's a new business, it's still all the work and the life savings," he said. "To have a herd of that size, there were a lot of sacrifices that were made, it means sometimes working two jobs, things like that."

Fortin says it isn't easy to load dozens of cattle into trailers, but it's not impossible for someone with experience. He said the animals are marked by tags, but he believes thieves would be able to remove them.

While he's heard stories about stolen cattle, he never thought his entire herd could be taken all at once. He said thefts usually involve individual calves that are taken by people who want to raise them for meat.

Fortin is still hopeful police will be able to find his lost animals, which weren't insured against theft. If not, he says he'll have to rebuild his herd two or three animals at a time, while pushing back his plans to give up his second job to farm full-time.

"For sure it's very difficult physically, and even more so morally, because we're restarting at zero," he said.



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