'Horrifying' story behind a dozen sheep found dead under a tree

A farmer in New Zealand has shared the heartbreaking story behind a photo showing a flock of sheep lying dead under a tree.

Phil Smith, from Maniototo, Otago, reportedly said five ewes and seven lambs were killed on his property earlier this month after seeking shelter during a storm.

A lightning strike is to blame for the sudden death of the animals after it struck the tree during the thunderstorm. While he has heard of it happening on other farms across the country, he's never seen it on his own, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Dead sheep lying under tree on New Zealand farm after lightning strike.
A lightning strike hit a tree on a property in New Zealand, killing 12 sheep lying underneath it. Source: Reddit/kenreturns

MetService meteorologist Lewis Ferris told the publication there were nearly 670 lightning strikes around Otago area on January 5 and 6 alone. One of these hit the tree on Mr Smith's property.

Photos show devastating aftermath

The farmer said he didn't know his sheep had died until a few days later. His neighbour had been walking her dog down the road when she spotted them. She then phoned him to tell him.

"You don’t like any stock dying, but what can you do? It’s happened and you just have to deal with it and carry on," he told the New Zealand Herald. He said "it must have been a hell of whack," Farmer's Weekly reported.

Someone believed to be the sibling of Mr Smith's neighbour shared images on social media. One shows the group of sheep around the tree and the other shows two large markings on the trunk where the lightning bolt had hit.

Tree trunks with two markings caused from lightning strike.
The lightning strike left two large markings on the trunk of the tree. Source: Source: Reddit/kenreturns (left) and Getty Images (right)

"My sister sent these images yesterday, she was walking her dog on the neighbour's property and came across a tree that had been hit by lightning with what she estimated to be a dozen ewes and their lambs killed by the strike," they wrote on Reddit.

Mr Smith reportedly shared photos online too where one person said the incident is "pretty horrifying and amazing at the same time".

Another NZ couple loose sheep to lightning strike

While seemingly rare, another couple from Ōhingaiti on New Zealand's north island said they were left "devastated" when 12 of their sheep died the same way. Farmers Margaret and Bruce Goodwin told local publication Stuff they made the discovery after returning from a weekend away in November last year.

"We were gobsmacked. We have been farming here for 50 years and we have never even heard of stock being struck by lightning," Ms Goodwin said. They believed the sheep were resting against the trunk of the tree, which conducted the lightning bolt.

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