It could be a disgruntled former employee, a neighbor who’s jealous of your success as a pork producer, an animal activist or simply an intoxicated person out to have some fun at your expense.

Regardless of the source, the outcome can result in costly damage to your hog farm, warns Kent Mowrer, field specialist with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF), a non-profit resource group for livestock farmers based in West Des Moines, IA.

At a business seminar during World Pork Expo last month in Des Moines, IA, Mowrer related how numerous acts of vandalism and theft have crisscrossed the nation’s largest hog-producing state in the past few years. Cases in point:

  • On more than one occasion and on more than one site, liquid propane (LP) tanks were damaged by a high-caliber rifle.
  • Hog barns were damaged and hogs were stolen. In one case, thieves stole 55 hogs, removing just a few pigs from each pen at a time, so the hogs weren’t missed until the end of the production turn.
  • One-hundred head of Berkshire hogs were stolen over a two-week period from a hoop barn.
  • Drains were plugged, flooding a farm office and paperwork was set on fire, destroying farm records.
  • Damaged bulk bins were filled with water and feed was spilled on the ground.
  • Electric and feed lines were disabled.
  • A skid steer loader was used to ram a building to gain access.
  • Feed was poisoned, killing about 100 head of cattle.

Producer Experience

For hog farmer Dave Struthers of Collins, IA, the cause of damage to the family’s hogs came from an unexpected source. A nearby neighbor got intoxicated, let out some of the hogs from the eight hoop barns, then decided to try and run over them with his four-wheel-drive pickup truck.

On a Sunday afternoon in early March a few years back, Struthers’ brother-in-law stopped by the isolated site to check the hogs while Dave was out of town. The brother-in-law noticed hogs wandering in the fields and, on closer inspection, saw that they had some unusual injuries — swollen ears, a swollen tongue on one hog, and other injuries not consistent with hogs fighting. There were tracks in the snow and plastic parts from a vehicle.

The family was careful to not disturb the site and notified local law enforcement authorities immediately. Struthers says through the help of CSIF, a reward was established, and within three weeks the guilty party was arrested and sentenced.

“It was a cruel deed. At first we were going to let it go, but the more we thought about the inhumane action of what happened, we thought it should be prosecuted,” he says.

Struthers says the main action his family has taken to protect their 300-sow, farrow-to-finish operation from vandals and thieves is to hold an annual community pork celebration. By doing that, most neighbors have agreed to look out for the Struthers’ hog farm and notify them of any suspicious activity near their place.

Take Precautions

“The main thing to do to deter rural crime is don’t make it easy for anyone to cause damage or losses,” Mowrer says. Keep all exterior doors and interior doors to offices locked at all times. Remove keys and lock equipment. Store the equipment inside a secure building or at least park in a highly visible location. Put hidden disabling switches on the positive cables of batteries.

“In many of the cases of vandalism, the barns were left unlocked and keys were left in vehicles in remote areas, where vandals likely knew the farmer’s schedule and when it was safe to go to the site.

“If you think you have some people watching your site or you’ve had some minor incidents of vandalism, vary your routine,” he emphasizes.

Barns should have metal door frames and metal doors secured by deadbolt locks; use double deadbolt locks to secure doors with windows. “If thieves see this, it may deter them or at least slow them down, which can be an issue if they think they have a limited time period to act,” Mowrer explains.

Security Cameras, Lights

Consider installing security cameras with sensors that snap pictures when they detect motion. CSIF worked with one pork producer who had hogs stolen from several production sites. He installed cameras in the offices that point toward the loading chute. The cameras recorded the individual actually backing a trailer up to a loading chute and captured a closeup photo of the man while he was loading the hogs.

Mowrer says the security camera from QC Supply sells for $139 (www.qcsupply.com). Another version sells for $150 from Northern Tool and Equipment (www.northerntool.com).

At a minimum, install security lighting that operates by light or sensors to discourage intruders.

Other security measures include:

  • Install perimeter fencing to discourage would-be criminals. Put up signs warning entrance to the farm is restricted and that the site is protected by security systems.
  • Plant rows of trees to protect your farm from view.
  • Join a neighborhood watch program whereby neighbors can report any unusual activities around your farm to you and to law enforcement officials.
  • Mark valuable property with an identification (ID) number. Ten-digit ID kits are available from law enforcement authorities. A stencil can be used to stamp the number on expensive tools that can be traced if stolen. Post a sign that property has been marked for identification purposes. Consider an ID program for your livestock. Mowrer says some hogs stolen didn’t even have an earnotch or tattoo mark.
  • Consider posting a reward in the case of vandalism or theft. This gets people talking and has led to arrests and convictions.

Producers who live in remote locales are also worried about expensive corn being stolen. ID-marking confetti can be mixed with grain to help identify the corn if the thief attempts to sell the corn at a grain elevator.

The CSIF official says if you come in contact with criminals on your farm, don’t confront them because they may be carrying firearms. Instead, jot down descriptive information about the individuals and their vehicle, including the license plate number, and notify the proper authorities.

In Iowa, also notify CSIF at (800) 932-2436; in other states, contact your local law enforcement officials and local commodity organization.

Emergency Action Plan

Another way to protect yourself and your property is to put an emergency action plan in place, Mowrer says. Include a list of contacts and phone numbers of various individuals: your veterinarian; neighbors you can count on; emergency management offices; insurance agents; fire, sheriff and police departments; trusted employees; or other farm owners/managers.

As part of your emergency action plan, have backup plans for electricity, feed and water systems. Have this information handy in case of an emergency, and post it so other employees have ready access to it. Share it with family and trusted neighbors.

This plan also works well in the event of a weather emergency, in case hogs need to be moved to a safe location, Mowrer says.

Working with Media

Media may contact you for comments following an incident at your farm. Take time to prepare. Be polite, courteous and helpful. Don’t vent your anger about the situation. Repeat your core message.

If a reporter wants to visit your farm, make sure it is presentable prior to his/her arrival.

If in Iowa, contact the coalition for help in preparing statements for the press. Stick to the topic at hand and don’t let reporters misdirect you into animal welfare or other issues. Direct their legal questions to authorities.

A detailed brochure on vandalism and theft was prepared by the coalition this spring. Access a copy at www.supportfarmers.com or call (800) 932-2436.