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Magalela from the land: The menace of stock theft

October 20, 2012

Stock Theft!

That’s a sore point and a hazard of the trade for livestock farmers. No, theft is a hazard for all farmers. Thieves go through maize fields or dig potatoes up in the dead of the night. I even heard about how tons of sugar cane were harvested in the middle of the field. Really!
I too have not been spared the abuse of someone walking onto my land and walking off with my future income.

Over the years I have lost a goat here and a sheep there, especially around busy weekends and the festive season, but I had not felt as devastating a loss as when I lost my broiler parent stock.

After the failure of my sheep enterprise, I decided to raise my own broiler parent stock. I wanted to do broilers but I did not think I should buy day-old chicks when I could have my own parent stock, hatch my day-olds and supply to the government sponsored co-ops, etc, etc, lofty ideas. Broiler farming was now in fashion following the collapse of the great egg production scheme.

As I always do when an idea grabs me, I hit my laptop to research and converted one pigsty into a chicken coup, complete with a shower and change-room to satisfy the strict rules for raising parent stock. I also bought a hatching machine with the capacity of 360 eggs. Talk about counting you chicks before they hatch.

My 120-day-old parents – a100 hens and 20 cocks – came. I was to raise them for six months before I could see an egg. In the meantime I bought fertilized eggs and started to use my hatching machine. I did well for the first three hatches and to my delight this time I had no problems with sales. Then the fourth run didn’t hatch and I discovered that manufacturers had forgotten to tell me about sterilizing procedures after every hatch. So huffing and puffing I let the machine rest as I waited for my parent stock to start producing.

For six months I pampered my chicks and they grew to be big, coming almost to my knees, with a few problems. It was a great day when I saw the first couple of eggs. Unfortunately I was not the only one who was watching, tracking growth and celebrating. Thieves were also lurking.

The chickens must have been laying for two weeks when I received THE call from Mvelase who had found the coup empty and all – more than a hundred of my beautiful, big birds – missing. When searching they found about 20 chickens in the long grass dazed and few close to death.

I felt as if a cold hand had grabbed my heart. Not another false start, I thought. This time I came very close to consulting isangoma -traditional seer- to find out why my farming ventures are stymied everytime they are about to take off. But I decided to go the conventional way of reporting to the police and going to notorious spots where everything is sold and bought.

I have a suspicion that the cops thought we had smoked something when we gave the description of knee-high chickens that weighed the same as small turkeys. No cop went looking for oversized chickens. Late in the day we heard about big chickens going for R30 each behind some shop. R30 for chickens that I had fed and nurtured for six months! I was livid and this time was ready to give up on farming for good. I was saved only by fantasies of casting a spell and driving the thieves so mad that they had delusions of being chased by oversized, talking chickens.
I did not lose hope and settled for raising day-olds like most small farmers. Ngashona khona.

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