Sheep stealing continues to cost frustrated farmers

VALUABLE: Young sheep are the prime targets for thieves, with livestock theft rampant throughout central Victoria.
VALUABLE: Young sheep are the prime targets for thieves, with livestock theft rampant throughout central Victoria.

Livestock theft throughout central Victoria and particularly in the Ballarat area is “the worst it’s been,” local producers say.

Central Victorian graziers are tired of being robbed and frustrated with inaction and lack of awareness of the magnitude of the problem.

“This is our business, our livelihood. It’s like being robbed in broad daylight and not being able to do a thing about it,” one farmer said.

“Livestock theft is extremely prevalent throughout Central Victoria  … it’s as big a problem as it has ever been and it’s an issue that is growing,” Victorian Farmers Federation Corangimite livestock councillor, Chris Draffin said.

“Sheep are the main target, and to a lesser extent goats, because they are smaller and easier to handle.” 

Laguna Bay Banongil general manager John Sheeran agreed sheep stealing is rampant.

“It’s an ongoing battle and with livestock values where they are. It’s not a surprise that the problem has increased, but we are losing thousands of sheep every year,” he said.

“As a large producer, we always feel under pressure … a potential target. We run large mobs and accountability of the stock is a constant issue.

“It’s always the young sheep as a rule, the most valuable ... the 18-month old ewes that are worth $250-$300 each.” 

Lexton farmer Robert Muller who has been on the land all his life, said a dedicated rural crime taskforce, with the time and resources to investigate properly, is needed. Mr Muller, who is also the Pyrenees VFF branch president, said the issue is on the agenda at the VFF conference next week.

Mr Draffin said the increase in thefts lined up with high sales prices. Stolen livestock are often sold interstate, with some being illegally butchered.

He said the thieves are highly organised and have ‘tools of the trade’, including portable panels and fencing, and “very well-trained dogs”.

Mr Sheeran said his property has full security at all gates and urges people to keep their eyes open.

“We need to be more vocal as a community, the more we all know about each other’s challenges, the more we can help.”

TRAINED: Highly trained dogs are one of the 'tools of trade' for professional sheep thieves.

TRAINED: Highly trained dogs are one of the 'tools of trade' for professional sheep thieves.

The Victorian Farmers Federation is also reminding people to speak up if they see anything unusual.

“If you see vehicles, such as horse floats or a closed-in trailer down a back road where they have no business being, write down a registration number, take a photo, report it,” Mr Draffin said.

It’s an ongoing battle and with livestock values where they are, it is not a surprise but we are losing thousands of sheep every year.

Laguna Bay Banongil general manager John Sheeran

“It is under reported but, regardless of whether you think police will do something, it’s still important to report it … it’s what paints the picture of how big the problem is.”

Lexton farmer Robert Muller, who has been on the land all his life, said they need a dedicated rural crime taskforce, with the time and the resources to investigate properly.

Mr Muller, who is also the Pyrenees VFF branch president, said the issue is on the agenda at the VFF conference next week.

Mr Sheeran said he had recently been “encouraged by the local police” who had showed “an interest in trying to help, but generally it is not a high priority with police, which is amazing given how much it’s worth.”

“We are suspicious of things like opened gates … it’s just a distraction so that sheep end up in the wrong paddock and create confusion about numbers. There’s a lot of tactics … they take smaller numbers from the larger mobs so they won’t be as noticeable.

“They have the advantage of animal nature ... sheep huddle together at night and are easy to move.”