HARTLAND, N.Y. (WIVB) — New York State Police out of Lockport are reportedly investigating a larceny of 50 chickens off a private property in Hartland.

The alleged incident follows a warning to farmers from the Niagara County Sheriff about “suspicious activity” regarding potential “animal rescues.” The investigation is ongoing. State police said releasing further information could jeopardize the investigation.

Kimberly Simmeth says she owns the chickens and spoke to us by phone.

“My anxiety is through the roof right now, because and I’ve never felt this way,” Simmeth said.

Simmeth says when she returned home from work on Tuesday, she was stunned to find dozens of her chickens missing, without a trace.

“I came home from work and the feed for the chickees, the littler, the younger ones was nearly still full and that was a tip off and there was not a bird in sight,” Simmeth said.

She suspects she was being watched from afar and that the chickens were taken shortly after she left for work. Simmeth also says she saw a suspicious van near her home Thursday morning.

“I walked out there, walked out towards the front with the dog and it like sped up, pulled into my driveway, backed out and I’m trying to control the dog, so I didn’t get a picture of the license plate and backed up and sped off,” Simmeth said.

The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office has put farmers on alert of animal activists doing surveillance on local farms, possibly to take animals. Some lawmakers say “vegan extremism” is crossing the line.

“People are allowed to have their First Amendment right to free speech and to advocate for these animals, but some are taking it too far and they admit to actually taking it into the illegal realm,” said Niagara County Legislator Shawn Foti.

As State Police investigate, Simmeth feels she has to stay close to home to protect her other animals.

“Just let us be us, let us do what we do,” Simmeth said.

Animal activists say they’re trying to liberate animals. But the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office says if people are caught on private property or stealing animals, they will be charged criminally.

Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.