Livestock theft leaves sheepish farmers calling for action

Federation president Emma Germano said agricultural crime left farmers and their families feeling unsafe as well as contributing to economic losses in rural communities.

“Sadly, governments have repeatedly failed to deal with farm and rural crime,” she said.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Emma Germano. Credit:Jason South

Nearby to Steers’ farm, Locksley farmer Steven Brook said at least 300 sheep were stolen from his farm between June 2017 and April this year. After speaking to other farmers in the area, he estimated about 700 sheep had been stolen in the past five years.

Victorian laws require all sheep to have identification tags, which allow farmers to count and trace the locations of their sheep.

Farmer Steven Brook has also been a victim of livestock theft.

Farmer Steven Brook has also been a victim of livestock theft. Credit:Eddie Jim

But Brook said he believed thieves were carefully planning livestock theft, including trucks to transport the animals and methods for removing tags.

“This is more organised than just a thief who takes the opportunity when he sees a few sheep on the road,” he said.

However, farmers were often reluctant to report livestock theft, Brooks said, partly because it was hard to tell when the animals were stolen as they were often spread over huge distances.

“I kept quiet about it,” he said. “I felt embarrassed.”

Police farm crime coordination unit acting inspector Gary Wilson said livestock theft had a devastating impact on farmers’ businesses, but many incidents were going unreported.

Belinda Steers and her partner James Rudd.

Belinda Steers and her partner James Rudd. Credit:Eddie Jim

He said it was vital that farmers told police if they suspected they had been the victims of theft.

“We know that it’s often very difficult to tell if and when livestock theft has occurred as we know animals tend to be counted periodically, and it’s physically impossible to have eyes everywhere on a large farming property,” he said.

Stolen animals were taken to sale yards where police carried out random checks in some cases, Wilson said. Signs of theft included ripped ears on animals or suspicious tags, as well as unusual mobs of sheep with mixed breeds.

Sheep theft is a growing problem on Victorian farms.

Sheep theft is a growing problem on Victorian farms. Credit:Eddie Jim

A state government spokeswoman said there were 78 farm crime liaison officers who worked with regional communities wherever they were needed.

She said the officers had specific skills and knowledge of the agriculture sector, so they could oversee farm and livestock investigations.

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