How do farmers safeguard their animals from the threat of crop and livestock theft, which is ever-present in Mzansi?
Farmers are at their wits end and sleeping with one eye open, despite police minister Bheki Cele indicating a decline of 6.9 % in livestock theft in his 2020-2021 crime statistics report.
Outwitting the constant threat of thievery has farmers patrolling their land at night, installing costly safety measures like security cameras and electric fencing, and even making secret tattoos on animals to help them identify their stolen property.
Food For Mzansi spoke to ten farmers – both small-scale and commercial – to find out how they safeguard their livestock and crops.
Keep your movements private
When Northern Cape sheep farmer Ettiene van Wyk has to go away on business for a long period of time he tells no one.
In addition to this, he drives through his farm at night at least once with spotlights on, so that people can see there is movement on his fields.
“I also have an Anatolian shepherd dog that walks 24 hours a day among my animals at the far end of my farm. The dog moves the animals together, thus protecting the animals from livestock thieves, foxes and caracals.”
Routine farm patrols
In the 35 years that he has been farming, commercial farmer Nick Serfontein of the Sernick Group has not lost a single animal to livestock theft.
“This is because every night there’s patrolling on my farm and we have cameras installed. In addition to this, we count our cattle every day,” he says.
According to Serfontein, the fact that they have good relations with the local communities also helps a lot.
Think carefully about structure locations
While he has never experienced trouble with livestock thieves, Ratlale Masiu in the Free State advises farmers to build their kraals in the middle of their properties and not close to the road.
“People, when they are passing your farm, they can see everything that happens, so rather play it safe. Also don’t let the animals graze close to the fences because that attracts thieves.”
Up security during harvesting
Lerato Senakhoma, who runs a mixed farming operation in Gauteng, hires security guards during harvesting season when thieves normally target farmers.
“It’s just better that way because if you take the law into your own hands, you yourself will end up in trouble with the law. That’s why it’s better to hire security guards, so you can limit the risk of theft on your property,” she explains.
In regard to livestock theft, Senakhoma believes in brandmarking her cattle. This is because in the unfortunate event that her cattle is stolen, she can open a case and it will be easier to track and identify the animals.
“Now I’m planning to insure my cattle, I’m just looking for a good insurance company. Since the beginning of this year we have opened two cases for crop theft,” she says.
For KwaZulu-Natal’s Andile Ngcobo, the most important factor to consider lies in how farmers treat their staff.
“A lot of the issues pertaining to theft, like any other problem, starts at home,” he says.
Ngcobo believes that if a farmer looks after his or her employees, they become the farmers’ first line of defense. This, he says, as opposed to being the root of the problem.
“Secondly, all of the farm access points are installed with stock theft camera’s and these are very helpful in tracking the traffic around the area.”
Tattoo animals in uncommon areas
Apart from keep farm gates locked, livestock farmer Sarel Kotze in the Western Cape has taken extra precautionary measures.
“We make sure our animals are tagged, but we’ve also started tattooing them on the inside of their legs because thieves are now cutting off the tagged ears of the sheep. This then makes it difficult for you to prove that the animal belongs to you,” he explains.
Apart from that, Kotze says they also count the animals and patrol the farm regularly.
Keep them out with electrical fencing
“The farm I lease is secured with electric fencing, which requires our electricity system to be on par. I made sure that the farm came with a safety feature,” states Gauteng farmer Gugulethu Mahlangu.
She adds, in the event of electricity problems, it is important that they sort it out on the same day.
“We’ve also employed a caretaker and some of the workers stay on the farm, which helps with crime. We have not had crop theft at all, but it is also due to our tight-knit community. This helps a lot,” says Mahlangu.
Secured holding pens
Keneilwe Raphesu, second in charge of their family farm in the North West, is no stranger to livestock theft. “We suffered great losses when we used chains to lock the gate. Thieves can easily cut it. We now use a different locking system which makes our gates more secured” she explains.
Keneilwe Raphesu takes the reins as second in command of the Mogalemone Farm in
Currently they have an employee who herds the cows while grazing during the day and in the evening her cows are locked inside their holding pen, which is also fenced.
“To our advantage,” she explains. “The holding pen is right next to our house.”
Trackers and microchips
Normally what Thabo Dithakgwe does is ensure that all his cattle have been tagged and tattooed. This way he ensures that he is able to properly identify his animals in the event if thieving.
Dithakgwe advises that farmers mark their livestock properly, according to the animal identification act. He adds that many court cases are lost because of disputes regarding the proper identification of animals.
The livestock farmer from North West says although he already conducts “Farm patrols on the farm, I am in the process of inserting microchips on all my livestock and also adding trackers.”
Join local farm watch
Western Cape farmer and app developer Eric van Zyl says there has been numerous incidents when thieves stole grapes from their wine farm.
“It was a big problem at one point, people just don’t care. But what helps a lot is our local farm watch. They have an excellent system in how they keep watch and there is always movement on the farm especially at night. This is the time when most farm thieving happens.”