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Fighting Crime on the Farm

21:52PM Mar 06, 2015

The news was enough to turn any sensible person’s stomach. A wave of crime across South Carolina poultry operations earlier this winter has left more than 300,000 chickens dead.

The criminal(s) dismantled alarms that send alerts when the chicken houses become too hot or too cold, then turned up the heat to a fatal level and crept away.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” farmer W.L Coker told the Charlotte Observer. “They roasted them. If they get too hot they die. I hate for them to be destroyed like that.”

Sadly, crimes perpetuated against farmers and farm animals is nothing new. It’s also way more prevalent than you might imagine. For example, did you know that in 2011, there were more convictions for livestock theft than for car thefts in Iowa? That trend had prompted state Rep. Lee Hein to propose increasing the penalty for farm-related theft.

"Maybe I'm just a farm boy, but I think I can steal livestock way easier than I can steal a car, and the chances of getting away with it are a lot better," the Monticello dairy farmer told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Hein is asking for a bill that retains a top penalty of up to 10 years and prison and a $10,000 fine for thefts exceeding $10,000, plus a 30-day minimum sentence for felony theft of farm commodities and livestock.

Farmers and ranchers have also taken their own protective and preventive measures, including some recent high-tech solutions. Here are some recent ways they are dealing with would-be criminals on the farm:

A Second Set of Eyes. Dairy Today Western editor Catherine Merlo has written extensively about how dairy farmers are putting surveillance systems to their advantage. This allows them to monitor various parts of their operations, including tank rooms, calf barns, maternity areas, medicine rooms, commodity barns, break rooms, time clock areas, driveways, parking lots and high-traffic areas inside buildings. It’s not meant to be a criminal detection system per se, but it does carry that added benefit.

Farmers Fight Copper Wire Theft. Technology editor Chris Bennett shares the harrowing count of Arkansas farmers who were fed up with copper wire theft on their farms. They didn’t have as much luck with security cameras, but instead found success with BinSnitch, a system that wires into a grain bin’s electrical system and alerts users with automated phone calls or texts with GPS coordinates whenever a wire is cut, panel box opened, or if the device is otherwise disturbed.

Lights and Locks. Fred Whitford with Purdue University put together a farm security checklist. It’s comprised of five simple steps that you’ll be glad you took to safeguard your on-farm assets.

Cattle Theft Prevention Tips. Higher cattle prices may mean thieves could be more tempted than ever to make their move. That’s certainly anecdotally true, especially in the light of a recent report of 1,121 missing calves from a Texas operation. This list of 14 helpful reminders from the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is a couple of years old but still relevant advice.

Protect Your Online Data. Physical assets such as livestock and copper wire aren’t the only items susceptible to theft. Internet security is a huge challenge. Hackers are smarter, computers are faster and Internet companies are not keeping up. California dairy producer Dino Giacomazzi walks through some easy, helpful ways to better protect online data.