Two hundred rare Alpine goats were stolen from a farm in southern Israel on Tuesday night, with the owners saying the total loss could top 5 million shekels ($1.3 million) if the goats aren’t recovered.
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The goats were taken from the Offaim Farm on Moshav Idan, in the Arava region. One Alpine goat can fetch 4,000 shekels at market, while a pregnant goat can be worth up to 6,000 shekels. The direct damage to the organic farm is estimated at about 1 million shekels, but could reach 5 million shekels when the loss of income from the goat milk is factored in.
When news of the theft circulated, an organization called Hashomer Hahadash (New Guard) joined the search. The organization comprises volunteers who fight agricultural rustling: 30 volunteers participated, searching all over the south for them – so far without success.
“Operations of this scope require high logistical capabilities that are reserved for organized gangs,” said Adi Schwartz, head of the group’s southern region. “Usually, one cell gathers intelligence over a relatively long period of time, and only then do they carry out the crime. This is one of the most serious agricultural thefts we have seen recently. A theft like this can destroy a farm,” he added.
Such a theft shows that criminals have no fear of stealing from farmers, continued Schwartz. “The good news is that these are very rare goats, and they will have a hard time selling them in Israel without being discovered,” he said. “The bad news is that we fear for exactly this reason, the thieves will try to smuggle them out of Israel.”
One of the farm’s co-owners, Hedai Offaim, is a contributor to Haaretz’s food pages. “Over the past seven years, we have brought the milk business into the farm and started making goats’ milk cheeses – and today it is one of our main businesses. They stole the lion’s share: the 200 stolen goats were either in advanced stages of pregnancy or had just given birth,” he said.
Offaim said this was about to be the peak season for milk, because in organic farming they usually “dry out” the goats for a period of two months before giving birth.
The farm, owned by brothers Hedai and Yinon Offaim, is one of the first in Israel to be based on sustainable agriculture. The brothers handle all stages of production and sales of their products. They sell their products directly from two stores, in Jerusalem and Maccabim.
“It’s not just my ability to make a living that is hurt,” Hedai Offaim added. “We have some 50 employees that work in the system, from the farm to the stores.” In order not to damage their inventory of cheeses, other farmers and cheese makers have agreed to sell their products in the Offaim stores.