Keeping electronic tabs on animals could reduce theft

Associate Professor Mark Trotter, from Australia's Central Queensland University, is leading research into using smart ...
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Associate Professor Mark Trotter, from Australia's Central Queensland University, is leading research into using smart sensor technology to prevent and detect stock theft.

A new livestock monitoring system which remotely tracks animals could help detect and prevent stock thefts on farms.

The system, developed by researchers from Australia's Central Queensland University and Lincoln University's Dr Stuart Charters, uses GPS and sensor technology to keep track of livestock and pick up on unusual animal behaviour or movements.

The initial research project uses sensors on cattle collars but the researchers expected testing of the technology would be carried out in ear tags for sheep at a later stage. 

Stock theft is estimated to cost Kiwi farmers about $120 million a year.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

Stock theft is estimated to cost Kiwi farmers about $120 million a year.

Farmers' inability to constantly monitor their stock provided thieves with plenty of opportunities to steal, project leader Associate Professor Mark Trotter said.

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"Stock theft can range from small incursions paring off a handful of animals from larger groups, all the way through to major criminal operations in which entire herds are mustered into portable yards and shipped out in semi‐trailers," he said.

Federated Farmers rural security spokesman and Te Puke farmer Rick Powdrell has been a victim of stock theft four times.
Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ

Federated Farmers rural security spokesman and Te Puke farmer Rick Powdrell has been a victim of stock theft four times.

"In all cases the opportunity to steal is a result of the inability of the farmer to constantly monitor the location and behaviour of their livestock."

"We have designed a generic animal sensing platform with GPS location to monitor animal movement that we will test in stock theft simulations."

Federated Farmers rural crime spokesman Rick Powdrell said a sensor system could be an effective way of monitoring unusual patterns of animal movement, which could indicate a theft was taking place.

Federated Farmers rural security spokesman Rick Powdrell has himself been a victim of stock theft.
MARK TAYLOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Federated Farmers rural security spokesman Rick Powdrell has himself been a victim of stock theft.

"If it's sensitive enough, a sensor is going to pick up movements as small as breathing," he said.  

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"It's going to show the animal is moving all the time.  If it's cut off and hits the ground, it's going to stop moving."

A sheep and beef farmer who has himself been a victim of stock theft four times, Powdrell welcomed any research which could help curb the problem.

"Technology already exists to keep track of what's in a paddock - cameras that can tell the difference between something with four legs and something with two, gate beams and weight detection pads in gates," he said.

"A lot of people already have things like that set up but a sensor on the animal is interesting."

While GPS tracking implants were already being used by some pet owners and would likely be the most effective way of monitoring stock, the technology was not yet ready for farm use, he said.

"With implants, you run into issues with meat trade because they can walk around the animal and end up where they shouldn't be.

"The meat industry to date hasn't been able to come up with an effective implant because of the way they move."

Stock theft is a major issue on both sides of the Tasman Sea.  A recent survey of 1000 Kiwi farmers found 26 per cent had stock stolen in the past five years and more than three per cent had been hit by stock thefts more than five times in the same period.  

Federated Farmers, which did the survey, estimated stock thefts cost farmers about $120 million a year.

In Australia, stock theft was the most commonly reported rural crime, with a survey in 2002 finding six per cent of farms were affected and 186,777 animals involved at an annual cost of $A16m ($17.3m).

However, it was estimated as much as two thirds of all stock thefts went unreported in both countries and the true cost could be much higher.

 - Stuff

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