Preventing livestock theft

April 2020

Petrea Wait, District Veterinarian, Monaro

Declining stock numbers as a result of the prolonged drought in New South Wales has seen demand - and prices - for livestock skyrocket in the last 12 months.  Sheep are currently making over $200 a head through the saleyards, and cattle are often worth as much as $2000 a head. When stock become valuable they become a target for thieves which has seen an increase in what NSW Police describe as the most significant rural crime.

“Within the last few weeks we have seen a steady increase in the numbers of reported stock thefts in the Monaro Police District after a relatively quiet period,” said DSC Archie French of the Monaro Rural Crime Prevention Team.

“The price of stock in recent times seems to have motivated some to get into the business of taking livestock that don’t belong to them.

“We don’t believe there is only one person responsible for this, with the types of thefts on the books at the moment varying from a few killers to a small truck load of re-stockers”.

Detective Senior Constables Archie French (L) and Ned Doubleday (R) of the NSW Police Rural Crime Prevention Team

Above: Detective Senior Constables Archie French (L) and Ned Doubleday (R) of the NSW Police Rural Crime Prevention Team.

When stock are stolen not only do producers incur significant financial losses there is also the loss of future breeding herds and bloodlines at a time when they are most expensive to replace.  Of particular concern is the increased biosecurity risk of stolen stock with fraudulent health status papers entering the marketing and processing chain, which poses an unacceptable risk to Australia's domestic and international trade.

People entering your property illegally could also potentially leave you with more headaches than just an empty pasture. There is an increased risk of the introduction of unwanted weeds or diseases on vehicles, footwear or with straying stock, which may have long-lasting effects and require significant cost to control. In addition, fences and equipment are often damaged and require repair, while allowing remaining animals to stray.

Fortunately there are a number of measures you can take to deter stock theft and trespassers, and to make it easier for police to investigate these crimes if they occur. DSC Ned Doubleday of the Monaro Rural Crime Prevention Team has outlined a number of stategies to help achieve this.

Make access to your property, livestock and equipment difficult for thieves.

Keep gates and loading ramps locked and fences in good repair. Secure fencing makes it more difficult for stock to stray and for crooks to claim they ‘found’ them. Capping gate hinges and placing some strategically located ditches on access points will make entry even trickier. Locate stock yards away from public roads and close to home, and don’t leave yarded stock unattended.

Install security cameras or use drones for property surveillance – you can check on the health of your stock at the same time. Also, be visible around your property but vary your routine and don’t publicize when you are going to be away.

Identify your stock early and keep good records.

Check and count them regularly – every time you muster, yard or just drive through the paddock. That way you will be able to narrow down the time frame in which they went missing and give the police a better chance of getting them back before they disappear forever.

Identify your stock at marking time with more than one form of ID. Brands, earmarks, management tags and RFIDs should all be applied at this time – although these can be lost, removed or altered by a thief, the more marks they have the harder this gets. There are also reasonably priced ear tags and tracking collars available which allow you to GPS locate your stock, and which send warnings to your devices when unusual movements or events occur. These devices even allow you to remotely monitor stock for elevated body temperature with infection or panic-like behaviour during a dog attack.

Remember to keep good written or digital records, you can’t prove it happened if you didn’t make a record. This includes your own farm records as well as the NLIS database. It is your responsibility to record property to property movements, purchases and ensure sold animals are transferred correctly. You can also mark animals as deceased, missing or possibly stolen so an alert is generated in the system when they show up. Valuable animals should be insured and their records should include photos with any distinguishing marks or features. Register your brands and marks with Local Land Services, your breed society or keep accurate records of them, it gives you a better chance of proving that form of ID is yours.

Use signage to discourage trespassing and protect your biosecurity.

Under the Biosecurity Act (2015) it is illegal for unauthorized persons to enter farmland on which a Biosecurity Management Plan exists and significant penalties may apply of up to $220,000.  Farmers must have appropriate signage displayed and be enacting their Management Plan which might include sign-in logs for visitors and contractors. It is also recommended to keep a record of who has keys and access codes, as well as seeking references for all staff and contractors. Signs promoting the use of security cameras should also be displayed.

Biosecurity gate signs are available from your Local Land Services office

Above: Biosecurity gate signs are available from your Local Land Services office and must be displayed, in conjunction with an enforced Biosecurity Management Plan, for trespassing penalties to apply under the Biosecurity Act (2015).

Record suspicious events and strangers.

If you come across signs that someone has entered your property without permission note down as much information about it as you can. Records of times, dates, registration numbers, and any photos or descriptions you make can be used by police as evidence in the event of a crime, or to help identify a pattern of crimes in the district. Report missing stock or equipment as soon as you make the discovery, don’t think it is too late or too hard to prove. Don’t be embarrassed to contact police because you think something is insignificant.

Be a good neighbour.

Observe and report any suspicious events on their farms. Be familiar with their normal practices, what stock they have and how they manage them, as well as their brands, marks and PIC numbers. Report your absences to them and ask them to keep an eye on things when you are away. Return any of their straying stock promptly and they are more likely to do the same with yours.

Guard against buying suspicious stock.

Request all relevant paperwork including pedigrees and registrations. Also request health statements, these are the equivalent of a statutory declaration and persons making false statements may be liable under fair trading and other relevant state legislation. Double check registrations and pedigrees against the records in the online breed registry. If a deal looks “too good to be true”, it probably is. Do a bit of investigating and report any discrepancies. Get to know the people who you are buying off, or purchase through a reputable livestock agent.

If you need to report a suspected livestock theft contact your local Rural Crime Investigator through your local police station. Non urgent crimes can be reported to the police assistance line on 131 444, or to provide information, contact the Crime Stoppers hotline on 1800 333 000. This can be done anonymously. Rural Crime Investigators are situated around the state and your local officer can be located via the NSW Police Rural Crime website.

If you require more information about animal health statements, the NLIS system, the registration of brands and marks, or wish to purchase Biosecurity signs contact your Local Land Services office on 1300 795 299.

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