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Modern Day Rustlers – Why Stock Theft is an Ongoing Problem

Stock theft is an ongoing issue that farmers and communities in regional and rural Australia still struggle with.

Dr Kyle Mulrooney from UNE’s Centre for Rural Criminology says that stock theft is something that is unfortunately still very common.

“[Stock theft is] so common that we have a police team here in New South Wales dedicated to farm crime prevention. And a lot of what they do, if not most of what they do, is address this issue of stock theft.”

Given that much of the landscape on farms is wide open space, with few witnesses and ample opportunity, stock theft and equipment theft occurs regularly. The Centre for Rural Criminology’s Farm Crime Survey found that 81% of farmers indicated they had been a victim of a crime. Of that, 41% was theft of livestock, and 29% was the theft of equipment and tools.

Kyle explains that it is the likelihood of being caught, more so than the punishment, that tends to deter people. When it comes to stock theft, the risk is really low, and the reward is really high.

“Farms are sort of ripe for the picking and very easy. The likelihood of being caught, which is one of the strongest deterrents, not necessarily punishment per se, but the likelihood of being caught is quite low in these environments.”

Or, in academic terms, “a criminogenic environment that’s conducive to these types of offenses.”

Farm crime, and in particular stock crime, is one of the hardest to solve according to intel analysts, because there is little to no evidence to go off. This of course, depends entirely on the individual farmer, but sometimes it can be as much time as two weeks between a theft and a farmer knowing.

One solution that is being trialled is what’s being called a SARE Tag – Smart Animal Ear Tag. Attached to an animal’s ear, the tag communicates via SMS or email, keeping farmers up to date with the animals location and movement patterns. In a trial using sheep, these tags, Kyle explains, were able to cut down on the biggest problem, which is time.

“We ran a mock theft trial. So we had thieves go in, muster the sheep, we had a real live police response. And within 5 minutes we knew there was a problem. And within 20 minutes the police had them. This type of stuff, if adopted en masse, would really, really help secure properties.”

While rural crime is a problem, it’s not going ignored. In NSW there is a police team dedicated to rural crime, with significant experience in investigation.

The Centre for Rural Criminology published the results of their 2023 farm crime survey, and are continuing their research into the prevention of rural crime.

Photo by Yulia Gadalina on Unsplash