Catching Cattle Rustlers. Need Covert IR Illuminators

I have a large rancher client who is losing hundreds of thousands in dollars in stolen livestock each year. My customer's cows are kept in vast pasturelands covering thousands of acres, and thieves randomly are hitting his herds, stealing 5 - 6 head at a time. He wants the rustling to stop now!

One of the problems with this situation: my client suspects some of his ranch hands may be the thieves, and equipment needs to be covert.

We've installed a slick covert camera setup on several pumphouses, each covering a main pasture gate. The picture looks great during the day, but the scene is too dark at night.

I need 'covert IR illuminators'. Something that has a range of 30' and covers at least a 20' field of view.

Do you have suggestions for me? I can provide more details as needed. Thanks IPVM.


940nm illuminators instead of the typical 850nm ones should do the trick, no? Just get an add on 940nm IR illuminator from Bosch, Illuminar, Raytec, etc.

See our IR tutorial for more.

It's more than the IR light being covert. I need the illuminator itself to be covert, or at least nondescript.

Something that can be mounted inside of an enclosure that looks like a junction box or something like that. Obviously it needs to shine through, but it cannot look like an illuminator.

Black Ops Plastic: "a technology to create covert concealment devices out of a material that black & white cameras can see through, but the human eye cannot!"

Keep in mind that you may also need to use different cameras with the 940nm illuminators, as not all IR-sensitive cameras are particularly sensitive beyond the standard 850nm.

Have you considered instead using thermal cameras that will let you see the activity even in complete darkness, so you (or the authorities) can be alerted? Combine that with video analytics that can detect and alert on the difference betwen people and cows, so you don't have to sit watching the cameras all night...

Thermal and video analytics is outside the budget on this one, but thanks for the suggestion. The customer would stand watch behind the gate with a shotgun before buying that stuff.

Colt Peacemaker

If the covert illuminators don't work out for you, how about a non-technical solution?

SurveillanceCow would know:

That might work on a dairy farm, but i hope the hired hands dont get confused and try, well you know, that routine dairy stuff

I think at this point, he needs an investigator. And I'm in total agreement about it being his ranch hands. It would make the most sense to me.

If it were left to me, there are a few things I'd do (if he hasn't already). And that is to review/observe a few things. First, I would look at recent vs. long time hires, then look for a trend as to when this started happening, days it typically occurs (if possible) and then look at what was happening during those days that the cattle were stolen just to see if anything pops. I would also try to note whether anyone is suddenly sporting "new" items... classic tattle-tale signs that someone is spending money.

Does the rancher use ear tags or branding/marking of some kind?

With that much rustling going on, it's probably not people eating them. Which means they are selling them?

And how are they selling them if the cows are properly marked? You can't just sell cows on Craigslist... (at least I don't think you can)

The clients herd is chipped, but this location is less than a day's drive from Mexico, and temporary feedlots (slaughter & processing yard) are common around here. If the stockyard does not check the chip, there is no way to confirm an animal is stolen.

Some of the mobile outfits deliberately avoid checking, they just pay 20% less per head and wink the papers through.

Branding is mostly a thing of the past, it's cheaper and safer to tag the animal. There's always a way around the system.

Maybe someone needs to come up with a Lo-Jack system for cows... find out who's taking them, and WHERE they're taking them!

ok, you can. :)

This sounds like a justification case for autonomous drones fitted with video. They could randomly lurk at tree level, at night in pre-designated regions almost completly in silence. A bit creepy but the potential is there AND they could cover a large area in a short time.

just a conceptural though.

I think you need a more covert method to catch the crooks red handed. May I suggest:

Covert Cow

I agree on the "get an investigator" comment. If the rustling is happening that often, it wouldn't take long for an investigator, or for that matter, a couple of "the boys", to figure out what's going on. Get a $400 pair of Bushnell NV binoculars down at WalMart and get to the bottom of it.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but a $400 NV Riflescope would be similarly effective....

Now, one question that has yet to be asked is: "Why do you need IR Illuminators?". This would indicate (of course) that the rustling is happening at night (although ALL rustling is not done at night). Now, since you have isolated several "squeeze chutes" to use a cattle analogy, by virtue of the fact that you are using certain pumphouses, why doesn't your client require the use of RFID tags on ALL ranch-owned and employee owned vehicles? (Similar to tollroad passes or EZ Tags). Now, after the cattle have been fed (I have never fed my cows after "dark-thirty"), then why is an employee's Ford F150 coming through that gap at 2:00 a.m.? And, if you REALLY wanted to get fancy, install one of several devices (which could even be an Optex beam for instance) to count axles. That would mean that they are pulling a trailer (doubt they are rustling one cow at a time). If there are more than two axles coming through that gap, then ask that ranch hand what he was doing pulling a trailer through that gap at 2:00 a.m.

This article caught my eye and reminded me of our topic here. Quote:

1,100 head of cattle worth around $1.4 million have vanished from a Panhandle dairy belonging to the Braum’s restaurant chain. The disappearance of the Holstein / Jersey calves was discovered during the company’s annual inventory at their 24,000-acre farm on the Oklahoma / Texas line east of Follett, about 125 miles northeast of Amarillo.

My math works out to ~$1300 per head over 30 trailer loads. Wow.

It's a pretty big issue these days:

Last year Oklahoma ranchers claimed $4.5 million in losses due to rustling

Makes me think of the story about the security guard that got fired after losing 365 wheelbarrows in one year. Something about the daily vendor that would come in empty handed to pick up all of the newspaper (or some item) at the factory and cart them out in a wheelbarrow as he waved good bye to the guard.

I remember a similar story about used shopping carts! During the day, a 'legit' business would refurb and repaint wire basket shopping carts and sell them to grocery stores for half the cost of new.

At night, the same outfit used to take horse trailers around and steal all the carts in the buggy corrals at local grocery stores for 'inventory'.

Did any of them look like this?

Wonder how hard it would be to "Lo-Jack" a cow?