COOKS BROOK, N.S. — Someone is stealing the free-range pigs and chickens of central Nova Scotia — even leaving the remains of one pig behind after butchering it.
A litter of piglets, six heritage Berkshire pigs and 40 chickens were stolen from Moo Nay Farms in Cooks Brook, about an hour northeast of Halifax.
Farmer Melvin Burns said he also found the remains of a slaughtered pig on a plastic sheet at the edge of the sprawling free-range family farm.
"They stole a pig from the field, butchered it and carried the meat away," he said in an interview. "They dumped the rest of it."
Down the road at Snowy River Farms, about 33 meat hens were noticed missing earlier this week.
"They were full grown meat hens ready for processing next week," farmer Amy Hill said. "It means someone has been watching us. They know our set up and schedule."
She said the thefts have left her feeling nervous.
"I went out last night to tuck in our birds, that's when we close the doors for the night, and I brought my husband and dogs with me," Hill said. "To have someone come on to your property at night while you are sleeping and take things makes me feel really mad and exposed."
But she said the butchering of her neighbour's pig is what makes her fearful.
"They had a weapon with them," Hill said.
Burns said the theft of his free-range Berkshire pigs and chickens has left him feeling uneasy and represents a loss of thousands of dollars.
The hearty livestock graze the roughly 60 acres of farmland at will, but there is a fence at the perimeter of the property.
The pasture and woods-raised animals eat mostly organic grains from craft breweries in Halifax as well as fruits and vegetables, he said.
"The pork chops you'd buy in Sobeys are mostly corn-fed and very light in colour," Burns said. "Our pork is a much darker colour, almost like a red steak."
He doesn't call his livestock organic but said they are raised naturally. Along with his girlfriend, Bianca Massarella, the couple raises goats, cows, chickens, turkeys and pigs and also boards horses. They also host farm tours and birthday parties to share their farming experience with youth.
RCMP Cpl. Dal Hutchinson said such a brazen theft of livestock, especially two robberies on the same stretch of road, is unusual.
"It's relatively rare for these sorts of thefts to be reported to police," he said. "Farmers will sometimes lose an animal or two to predators like coyotes or foxes but this is certainly someone going onto the properties to steal animals. I'm sure it's unnerving for the community."
The Mounties are asking anyone with information to come forward to police, or call Crime Stoppers if they prefer to remain anonymous.
Hill urged anyone who notices someone suddenly with several Berkshire pigs or a freezer full of meat to report it to police.
Burns said he's unsure police will be able to track down the culprits, but said he hopes the ongoing RCMP investigation and media attention will stop any further thefts.
— By Brett Bundale in Halifax