While only a small percentage of the country's population live on ranches and farms, they are largely affected by crime. This form of criminal activity, agricultural crime, is a serious problem that has monumental financial consequences for farmers, ranchers and consumers across the country. The National Criminal Justice Reference Service estimates that vandalism, theft and other agricultural criminal activity results in an estimated $5 billion in losses every year.

As a hardworking Texas ranch owner or farmer, you want to protect your land and all its assets. To keep your recreational property safe from cattle rustlers, plant poachers and other agricultural criminals, here are the top 10 ways you can prevent farm and ranch theft starting today:

1. Keep tack rooms and saddle compartments locked.
You wouldn't leave your house unlocked when you leave your property to go to the store or to visit with friends. Therefore you shouldn't leave your tack rooms, saddle compartments, gates or barns unlocked either. However, locks themselves won't stop some of the most ambitious criminals, which is why the Modern Farmer suggests that you should weld a metal cover over exposed areas of your padlocks to prevent them from being cut. 

"Brands should be registered and re-registered every 10 years."

2. Brand all your cattle and horses. 
Texas law states that any owner of goats, hogs, cattle, sheep and more may use brands, electronic devices, tattoos or ear tags to differentiate their livestock from others in their community. These brands must be different from a farmer or rancher's neighbors to prevent confusion and theft. While not required by law, Texas does mandate that all brands should be registered and re-registered every 10 years. Otherwise, another livestock owner could take your brand as it won't be updated with the local authorities and clerks.

3. Don't build pens too close to roadways.
Livestock pens that are built too close to busy or remote roadways are a danger to your farm or ranch. While pens near busy roads may attract potential thieves, remote roads also provide the opportunity for theft. If your pens are close to the road and far away from your line of sight, you may be setting yourself up as a potential target. Thieves could easily cut your fence and lead your livestock property right off your land. Don't make it easy for criminals and build your pens away from any road.

4. Never leave keys in tractors or other equipment.
Would you leave your keys in your car when you run into the grocery store? Or on a busy street? Don't do the same with keys for your tractors or other farm equipment. Doing so is just presenting an open invitation for thieves to sneak in and drive off the property with your essential equipment. Keep your keys in a safe place where you can find them easily, but not so easy that a thief could find them first.

5. Don't establish a routine while feeding.
While you may love getting into a feeding routine for your animals, this also paints you as a potential victim for criminals. These cattle rustlers or equipment thieves will monitor your activity and steal when they know you will be busy or gone. Instead, vary the time you feed your animals so that they won't be able to depend on your established schedule.

6. Participate in neighborhood watch programs.
If you live near a community of farmers or ranches, you want to have each others' backs. Create or participate in your neighborhood farm watch program to keep on eye on your property, while helping out your neighbors as well. Thieves will be less willing to steal from you or your neighbors if they know you all are diligent about keeping them secure and reporting theft to the proper authorities. Within this same line of thought, report crimes. Don't try to stop them in the act. 

"Count your livestock regularly."

7. Put your driver's license number on all saddles, tack and equipment.
Just like you want to tag or brand all your cattle, you want to do the same with your equipment. This will allow you to report any stolen assets easily and deter thieves from reselling any saddle or tack that has your personal information clearly marked on it. 

8. Park trailers and equipment out of view from the road.
Like you want to keep cattle pens out of sight from the road, you want to do the same with your trailers, barns and equipment, if possible. Essentially, these measures help deter potential thieves and make it harder for them to be successful. If they can't see your tractor or new load of feed from the road, they might not be as tempted to break in and steal it.

9. Count cattle regularly.
While branding your livestock is an important first step to prevent theft, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser's Association finds that it isn't enough. Count your livestock regularly and make sure your records are up to date. Otherwise, you might not notice that one (or 100) of your cows has gone missing!

10. Display TSCRA membership signs on gates and entrances. 
Among many other activities, the TSCRA special ranchers are charged with investigating livestock and equipment threat and educating landowners about how to best protect themselves from criminals. As they recover around $5 million stolen cattle each year for ranchers, this agency knows thing or two about theft prevention and recovery. Display your TSCRA membership sign at your gates and entrances to your land. These are excellent thief deterrents because the criminals will know that you don't tolerate theft on your Texas property.

If you want to learn about the price per acre of land in Texas or how to best protect your farm or ranch from thieves, contact Heritage Land Bank today!