How does someone steal 30,000 baby chickens? (And why do it?)
How do you steal tens of thousands of young chickens from a barn in mere hours?
Then, what do you do with them?
And, really, let's go with the obvious here: Why steal that many young chickens in the first place?
Thieves ruffled some feathers after making off with 30,000 chickens from a Southwestern Ontario farm last month, stumping everyone from investigators to farmers and armchair experts.
"It's absolutely mind-boggling," Ethan Wallace, a farmer and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture director for Huron and Perth counties, said at the time of the heist.
"Anybody that's chased a bird or anything knows how they scatter. To undertake rounding up 30,000 of them is, yeah, absolutely mind-boggling," he said.
SCENE OF THE CRIME
The 15-day-old chickens were reported stolen from a Huron County farm near Exeter sometime in the late afternoon to early morning April 19-20.
They were valued at $1.40 each, representing a total loss of $42,000, provincial police said.
No arrests have been made.
GOT A CLUE?
Investigators have no physical evidence for a theft of that magnitude, a police spokesperson said.
"We're really lacking physical evidence to support the report of the theft, but it still doesn't explain where are the chicks and how are they in the barn one day and gone the next?" Const. Craig Soldan with Huron OPP said. "It's still a mystery."
While the anatomy of the alleged chicken heist is unclear, one thing is certain: stealing 30,000 chicks is a massive undertaking.
"You would need a crew of people and large trucks that would be temperature-controlled. And that operation would take several hours and require certain equipment, people with skills and abilities," Soldan said.
Thieves would have to move fast to catch the birds, each weighing about 500 grams (one pound), he said.
WORKING THE NIGHT SHIFT
Chicken catchers typically wear headlamps and gather the birds at night to transport them to processing plants before temperatures rise, said Tina Widowski, animal welfare scientist and professor of animal biosciences at the University of Guelph.
"Also, birds become inactive when you turn off the lights, and then you can easily gather them up," she said.
A MONEY-MAKING INDUSTRY?
There are two kinds of chickens: egg layers and broilers. Broiler chickens are raised for meat and are usually slaughtered at six or seven weeks old, while layers are raised for eggs.
As Canada's largest chicken producer, processor and consumer, Ontario is home to 1,300 family-run chicken farms that contribute more than $5 billion annually to the province's economy, according to Chicken Farmers of Ontario.
NOT LIKE THE OLD WEST
Storing tens of thousands of birds would require a large facility with an appropriate amount of feeders and waterers, Widowski said.
As well, commercial farmers are audited regularly for animal care guidelines, she said.
"To go to a really good, reputable slaughter plant, you have to follow certain health guidelines. There are food safety aspects of it, as well as animal welfare aspects of it, so it's pretty complicated. It's not like cattle rustling in the Old West."
ON THE RISE
Farm theft and trespassing have become increasingly common in rural Ontario. The head of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture warned farmers late last year that crops and livestock are "easy targets" for thieves, in addition to equipment, fuel and other costly items.
CLOSE TO HOME
Southwestern Ontario has seen a few livestock heists in recent years.
Police in Huron County investigated the theft of 44 pigs from a farm northwest of Stratford last summer. Police said the pigs, valued at $12,000 and weighing between 30 and 90 kilograms, were stolen within a three-month window.
Further south, police said 130 six-month-old pigs were stolen from an Oxford County farm in November 2019, but the theft wasn't reported to them until Boxing Day. The pigs weighed about 135 kilograms each.
Anyone with information about the major chick heist is asked to contact Huron OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or 519-482-1677.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press