This isn't how Juergen Schubert envisioned the end of his nearly 30-year career as a cattle farmer: auctioning off most of his herd following the disappearance of some of his cows.
Schubert, owner of New Country Ranch in Zhoda, Man., says cattle thieves stole 150 cows from his herd of 800 last year, and now, he and his partner, Shirley Barca, have decided to throw in the towel after decades in the business.
"You never wind it up this way if you have a choice," his partner, Shirley Barca, said from Swift Current, Sask., where the pair was beginning to auction off the rest of the herd on Thursday.
"Both of us are over 65 and this has been extremely taxing emotionally, mentally, physically, on every level — not to mention financially — and we just feel that, you know, we need to make some changes," Barca said.
"So selling off the cow–calf operation and looking at another way to generate an income is, you know, sort of what we feel necessary at this point."
A spokesperson for the RCMP told CBC News that police are investigating what might be a cattle theft.
Schubert said he first realized he couldn't account for all his cattle in 2016, when he kept coming back short from head counts. He was supposed to have about 800 head of cattle — but he didn't.
But he and Barca hesitated to assume the missing cows had been stolen, thinking they may have just wandered out of sight on their 4,000-acre ranch about 80 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
"Initially we kept hoping that they were somewhere else and that we had counted wrong," Barca said.
"You go through all of those things in your mind, but then ultimately you come to the conclusion that they didn't leave on their own."
Looking back, she and Schubert think the majority of the missing cattle were stolen in March 2016 and the remainder were taken later that year.
No brand inspector in Manitoba
All of Schubert's cattle are branded, but he's concerned that it won't help him much, since Manitoba doesn't have a brand inspector to double-check that cattle being put up for auction are sold by their rightful owners.
"That's a gap that we could probably, possibly switch up," said Ben Fox, president of Manitoba Beef Producers.
Fox said stolen cattle would likely be sold to another producer, who may not know they were stolen. He estimated the value of Schubert's missing cows at around $2,000 to $2,500 per head, assuming they were pregnant.
"[Theft] doesn't happen all the time, and unfortunately producers have to continue to be vigilant to protect their investments," Fox said. "But, you know, it couldn't hurt to look into some more measures to try and protect something like that happening, for sure."
Barca said she wants other cattle farmers to learn from what she and Schubert went through. She's urging them not to hesitate to approach police if they're concerned about missing cattle.
"We just want other people to know that, you know, this can happen, and it's not a shame on you, it's a shame on the people who choose to take something of value from other people," she said.