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On-farm theft concerns continue for SA livestock producers

April 27, 2017

Livestock and on-farm theft are an ongoing concern to South Australian producers, with more than 50 per cent of respondents in a recent Livestock SA survey experiencing problems with on-farm theft in the past five years.

The survey coincided with a presentation by SA Police to the Livestock SA Board on Operation Poach. It is pleasing to see some clear synergies with the survey findings. The survey results outline that livestock and on-farm theft is a continuing issue for producers. Livestock SA will continue to work with SAPOL to further develop their program.

In total, 130 producers from the Mid North, Northern Pastoral, Yorke Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, Eyre Peninsula, Mallee, South East, Fleurieu Peninsula, Upper North and Adelaide Hills, responded to the survey, with 69pc calling for a dedicated stock squad or more training for police officers. Only 18pc believed that current methods were sufficient.

Other respondents called for stiffer penalties for those caught stealing, to provide more of a deterrent to thieves.

Of the thefts, 48pc of respondents had livestock or wool bales stolen, including ewe lambs, Angus heifers, Merino ewes and lambs, Chabray breeders and steers, first-cross ewes and prime lambs. Estimated values for stolen livestock ranged considerably, with some individuals estimating up to $200,000 worth of stock had gone missing across a period of time.

Items stolen included fuel, AAAM wool bales, shearing plant, tractor parts, hay, welding equipment, tools, gates, brass or metal materials such as trough floats, shearing handpieces and combs and solar fence energisers.

Only 49pc had reported losses to the police, stating reasons such as “inexperienced policing” or “local police station not attended…generally (they are) just not interested.”

Stolen equipment was more readily reported, with livestock less so, due to reasons including time taken to check the entire property, hoping stock may ‘turn up’, hoping some may have been missed in counts, or that losses could be attributed to deaths on-farm.

One producer called for an independent dedicated stock squad to be split into northern and southern branches to focus on livestock theft (and other rural crime) and the associated movement of stock off property. Other measures suggested included the introduction of DNA sampling of livestock in question and working with meat processing facilities. It is pleasing that Operation Poach will focus on providing more localised policing and will use emerging technologies such as DNA matching to support investigations.

Many respondents had undertaken activities on-farm to try and prevent thefts, including locking perimeter gates, securing smaller items in shipping containers or garages closer to the home, using CCTV and trail cameras, conducting regular patrols, increasing vigilance and keeping sheep in smaller mob sizes and checking them more often. Branding and ear tattooing was also re-employed, as well as moving and selling wool straight after shearing, locking up fuel, increasing communication with neighbours, and ensuring portable loading ramps were not left where stock were kept.

One respondent believed a stock squad was “desperately needed” in the South East region, saying that: “I understand it is a common problem that a lot of farmers are facing and nothing is being done about it. Stock theft is still theft and should be treated just as any other theft is – like home, shop or vehicle! There needs to be harsher penalties and the matter needs to be dealt with seriously.”

The definition of acceptable timelines for the return of wandering stock and their progeny was also paramount – as some respondents also highlighted this as a grey area.

ANDREW CURTIS, Chief Executive Officer of Livestock SA