Northland farmer Ian Russell fighting a costly, ongoing battle with cattle rustlers

Russell says he suspects some of the thefts are driven by jealousy.
Russell says he suspects some of the thefts are driven by jealousy. Photo credit: Getty

Over the years, Northland farmer Ian Russell has had his woolshed burned down, his truck shot out, his stock stolen and killed and he's even had a cow's head left in his letterbox - all by cattle rustlers who "feel that I owe them a bloody living".

Russell says it's been going on for more than 15 years, ever since he "grew to be quite a big farmer quite quickly", taking ownership of 6000 cattle and 12,000 sheep "overnight".

"I did in 10 years what the average farmer would do in two lifetimes. I went from owning very little to expanding to 40,000 acres there at one stage," Russell told Magic Talk's Rural Exchange over the weekend.

"So there was sort of an attitude out there that I had plenty of cattle and you'd get 10 or 15 people flogging a few here and a few there. It soon adds up - and that's the problem."

He says it's been a "bit of a jagged history" for him and his life on the farm over the years.

As the thefts continued, he has done everything to fight back and protect his stock, including hiring private investigators and setting up security cameras to get evidence of the thefts in action, he says. 

Despite all that, however, the thefts have continued, and in one case he even had a $500,000 woolshed burned down.

"We went ahead and put up security cameras. Just mainly to track certain guys who I knew were out there doing a couple of thefts a night there for a while and the police weren't able to come down to help and I was out there on my own," he said.

"There were three guys and I knew who they were, so to try and get a prosecution of these guys we installed security cameras and we got a lot of good footage. Ultimately, when the cameras were discovered, my woolshed mysteriously burned down.

"It was quite an iconic woolshed in the area and a bit like the community hall at times."

Russell says he believes a recent spike in crime in the region may be linked to methamphetamine.

"I know there's plenty of P in the area, having to deal with a few people that are on it," he says.

He says he also suspects some of the thefts are driven by jealousy.

"It disappoints me when it's people in the industry who feel that I owe them a bloody living - that's the feeling that I used to get, that I was a fair target," he says.