A flock of a rare breed of sheep is ordered destroyed after one of its members tests positive for a deadly disease. Before they can be culled, the animals are kidnapped in the dead of night, only to turn up weeks later on a farm several hours away. Now, an outspoken raw-milk activist says federal investigators raided his property, looking for clues in the case.
But the bizarre mystery hanging over a group of Eastern Ontario ovines has only deepened.
It began in 2010, when a Shropshire sheep from Wholearth Farmstudio in Trent Hills died of scrapie, a neurological illness. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency quarantined Wholearth’s flock of Shropshires – a rare heritage breed – and ultimately directed the herd be slaughtered.
The night before they were slated to be killed in April, someone kidnapped all 31 of them from Wholearth, leaving behind a note saying the animals were in “protective custody.” It was signed by a group calling itself the Farmers’ Peace Corps. Farm owner Montana Jones denied having anything to do with the abduction.
Twenty-six of the sheep were eventually found nearly 300 kilometres away, on a farm in Grey County, and were killed. The others are still missing.
Michael Schmidt, a prominent dairy farmer who has battled the province to legalize unpasteurized milk, waded into the fray to act as an unofficial spokesman for the Farmers’ Peace Corps.
At 7 a.m. on Thursday, he says, CFIA investigators armed with search warrants arrived at his farm to seize computers and cellphones. He would not discuss his exact connection to the Farmers’ Peace Corps, but said he is being investigated on suspicion of conspiracy.
And he continues to criticize the government’s handling of the file.
“This is insanity, when you look at the issue of genetic diversity,” he said of the decision to euthanize the Shropshires. “This forceful approach distracts from the issue.”
A CFIA spokesman confirmed Monday that the agency is conducting searches related to its investigation of the sheep abduction, but would not say what locations were the subject of its probe. Anyone accused of kidnapping the sheep could face both criminal charges and sanctions under the Health of Animals Act.
“A breach of a federal quarantine could have serious consequences to the health of animals,” Tim O’Connor said.