In a twist on the feed crisis being experienced by Alberta livestock owners, thieves made off with $10,000 worth of hay that had been illegally cut and baled in a provincial park near Edmonton.
The hay — about 70 bales in total — had been cut and bundled illegally in July at Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, just west of St. Albert.
Alberta Environment and Parks offered the hay to the Alberta SPCA, but before transportation could be arranged, all but one of the bales were taken from the field.
"The hay was going to be used to feed livestock in the care of our organization this winter," Stuart Dodds, a peace officer and provincial supervisor of the Alberta SPCA, said in a news release.
"Unfortunately the bales disappeared before we could set eyes on them."
The theft happened sometime between July 31 and Aug. 5.
Dodds told reporters Wednesday that a conservation officer with Alberta Environment and Parks called him about the bales of hay after they had been impounded. Dodds drove to the park to look at the bales and assess the quality of the hay.
"I came out here, and of course I was trying to find the round bales and I couldn't see them," Dodds said.
"So I phoned the conservation officer and he said, 'Yeah, they're right by the parking lot at the back of the picnic area' … and I'm saying, 'No, I'm sorry. I'm here and there isn't anything.'"
Dodds said stealing the hay would not have been easy and would have required numerous loads on a flatbed semi-trailer.
Another 11 bales had been cut, bundled and transported to a rural property. Those bales have since been donated to the SPCA, the news release said.
Hot, dry conditions this summer have been devastating for crops and counties throughout Alberta have declared local states of agricultural disaster.
Cattle can no longer find enough grass in baked pastures, and water sources have dried up. Meanwhile, hay has doubled or tripled in price.
The SPCA said cattle producers are being encouraged to legally secure winter feed as soon as possible.
"If farmers do not have enough feed to get through winter and spring, they may need to take steps to reduce their herds this fall," the news release said.
"Allowing animals to starve due to a lack of available feed is not acceptable."