To farmers and non-farmers alike, the typical CCTV footage is unsettling: dead of night, nowt out of place, when a strange vehicle enters the scene with a trailer in tow.
ou watch as unknowing sheep or cattle stumble into a transport box. The people who lured them away return to the vehicle and flee, and all is quiet again until the next morning, when a farmer discovers that livestock they worked on and depend on are gone.
The financial reward goes to a bandit instead of the person whose skills, knowledge, and effort brought the stolen animals into prime condition.
The farmer’s only luck, ironically, is in having the footage they never wanted to watch. It’s maddening viewing, but it’s valuable to the Gardaí they report the theft to. Others don’t take the precaution of installing CCTV, leaving a vacuum where crucial evidence could exist.
Over recent months, The Kerryman has reported on several disturbing farm thefts. The recently widowed Mary Kissane was, last November, the victim as callous rustlers robbed five pedigree whitehead cows from her Tarbert farm.
We saw grainy, early morning stills from CCTV of thieves hauling Aberdeen Angus animals, property of Ballyduff farmer Mike O’Mahony, away in a trailer at around 2am on February 13. He called the perpetrators ‘scumbags’, justifiably so.
These are lives affected by a worrying statistical trend. During 2021 and 2022, approximately 1,100 sheep were reported stolen or missing in Ireland. The number of cattle reported stolen during 2022 was 120, a 200-per-cent increase on the year before. Nearly 1,100 cattle were reported missing during 2021, but this shot beyond 1,350 over the next 12 months.
The southwest has been hardest hit. Approximately 110 cattle were reported stolen or missing in Kerry in 2022, the fourth-highest number of any county in the Republic of Ireland and nearly on par with third-placed Clare. Neighbouring Limerick was worst affected, with over 300 cattle taken or missing from the county.
“It knocks the good out of the farmer,” says John Joe Mac Gearailt, West Kerry branch chairperson for the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA). The INHFA and local Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) members met Gardaí last week to discuss several matters, farm theft among them.
“Mentally, you put a lot of work into cattle and sheep over the years, to breed good cattle and sheep, and to see them stolen out of your field has a detrimental effect. Your good work is for nothing; gone.
“With tools and machinery, if you take implements belonging to a farmer, you’re taking the way they go about their livelihood. If you take a carpenter’s tools, he has nothing to work with…Then there’s the financial side. Take an ordinary 8×5 sheep trailer nowadays, they might cost about €10,000. You might buy it on finance. After a year, it’s stolen, but you still have to pay the finance back. Where do you get a new one when you’re already carrying that kind of debt?”
Even those from outside a farming background should take interest as livestock theft can bleed into the food chain. As John Joe points out, rustlers surely can’t know if the animals they steal are receiving treatment and, by extension, can’t know if the livestock’s meat meets exacting Irish requirements.
“Some fluke doses, you might have a 50-to-60-day withdrawal period,” he says. “If these animals have been killed and are going into the food chain, it can be harmful. On top of that, what impact does that have on farm-to-fork traceability…They are ending up somewhere in the food chain, and for our credibility as a country that produces great food, what impact does that have?
“There has to be a market for this meat. I think there is a black market somewhere for these types of animals, and people might be buying this meat for cheaper than they’re getting it in the shop during the cost-of-living crisis we’re having.”
John Joe has called for a unified approach from representative farming organisations – not just the INHFA and IFA – to address the scourge, but however hard it may be to bring perpetrators to justice after the fact, it’s possible to place obstacles between them and your animals.
Gardaí will never comment on individual cases under investigation, or say anything that may negatively impact those investigations, so Dingle Sergeant James Hurley cannot talk about specific, recently reported farm thefts in Kerry except to say there are farm thefts under investigation.
But Sgt Hurley, who met with concerned members of farming organisations in Tralee Garda Station recently, is very clear that members of the public should not hesitate in contacting Gardaí: “The most important thing, and I couldn’t express this strongly enough, if you have a concern, ring the guards,” he tells The Kerryman. “No matter how minor someone might think what they see is, ring us. That’s what we’re there for.
“You don’t have to be a farmer. If you have a concern, if you feel in fear in your house, alarmed in whatever way, contact us.
“I have guards working, for instance, in Dingle 24 hours a day, they can attend a call, and they can make a judgement call and assess things on a case-by-case basis.”
Sgt Hurley also points to steps farmers can take to guard what’s theirs. Aside from CCTV itself, you can purchase cameras that emit audible warnings to potential thieves. You can download the Garda Síochána property app HERE, and it allows you to upload photos of your property and outline distinguishing features – perhaps a serial number, or a dent or marking unique to your property.
“If we recover property, we can be in a position to identify it through this feature,” he says.
“They’re common-sense things, but people think ‘this will never happen to me’, but it can. People might tell us their trailer is a Hudson, a Bateman, but they all look the same.
“Those identifying features can help, whether it’s a weld put in a location that wouldn’t be immediately seen by thieves.
“But the main thing is to contact Gardaí.
“Being afraid doesn’t help a situation, and there’s no need to be afraid anyway.”
The following is farm-security and farm prevention advice issued by An Garda Síochána and the Irish Farmers’ Association:
Potential security measures:
- Report suspicious behaviour to Gardaí. This can include finding someone in your yard without valid reason for being there; someone turning up unexpectedly to try and buy or sell something; or suspicious vehicles on your property or its vicinity.
- Restrict access to your yard. Install gates and fix them to a sturdy concrete or metal post. Keep them locked.
- Fencing, hedges and walls should be robust, well-maintained and checked regularly for breaches.
- Consider installing an alarm in vulnerable areas. An alarm will emit an audible warning and CCTV will provide surveillance on places out of view of the farmhouse.
- Illuminate areas which are overlooked from the dwelling or covered by CCTV.
- Store your tools and smaller machinery items in a building with enhanced security features close to the farmhouse.
- Photograph machinery and tools.
- Make a register of the make, serial number, colour and any unusual features on equipment. Indicate the type of property marking and where applied on the item.
- Stencil your unique code and registered number (approximately eight inches high) on your farm vehicles/plant machinery.
- Use heavy duty etching/stenciling to write your house number and name.
- Permanent heavy-duty marking can be done with a welder or grinder.
- Etching or engraving can be done underneath machinery or in areas which will become mud splattered and so remain hidden.
- A permanent marker may be appropriate to mark smaller equipment.
- A soldering iron is effective for permanent marking on plastic areas.
- DO make a record of vehicle make, colour and registration number of strangers when they call to your farm.
- DO note the general description of caller’s height, accent, gait, hair colour, eye colour, tattoos, etc.
- DO contact your local Garda Station as soon as possible.
- DO consider installing GPS tracking system on your equipment.
- DO NOT buy machinery, trailers, tractors, quads, ride-on mowers, etcetera, from strangers
- DO NOT pay cash for goods
- Consider appropriate good quality locks, bolts and bars on doors and windows.
- Always secure your home, close and lock windows and doors – even if you are only going out for a short time.
- Don’t hide spare keys outside.
- Don’t leave ladders or other climbing aids lying around outside. Ensure windows, skylights and vents are protected from the burglar.
- A visible intruder alarm will help deter thieves and provide protection.
- Watch out for your neighbours and their property, hopefully, they will do the same for you.
- Consider joining your local neighbourhood watch/community alert.
- A dog can be a noisy deterrent to intruders.