"It was only when I saw how they were acting on the camera that I realised that they probably had been stealing diesel from me for years," says an incredulous Andrew Revington.
The Westmeath dairy farmer had his most recent encounter with thieves less than two months ago. It was the latest in a long line of break-ins that have seen a car, a jeep, trailers, a generator and a quad stolen out of the busy dairy farmyard.
What was different this time, however, was that Revington had spent more than €11,000 over the last year on beefing up his security in a bid to put an end to the scourge. And while the latest intrusion highlighted some weaknesses in his system, he is confident that he is now a lot better off than 12 months previously.
"They got in through a gap in the hedge that we hadn't tended to, which proved to me that every easy entry point to the farm needs to be addressed before you give thieves a serious reason to bypass your property," said Mr Revington.
The most expensive item that he has installed in the last 12 months was a sliding electric gate.
"The yard is positioned right up against a busy enough road in the N52. In addition, there was a 30ft wide entrance, which was great for access with big trucks and machinery. However, it was also providing a lovely big shop window to all and sundry passing by," explains Mr Revington.
Spurred on by strong milk prices, Revington bit the bullet and splashed out €6,500 on a 30ft galvanised gate and support structures. He could have saved a little on the additional €2,000 that he spent on a motor, sensors and wiring by opting for a hinge gate, but he felt that wouldn't be as secure or neat when open as the sliding gate.
Mr Revington also opted for GSM technology that allows the gate to be controlled from a mobile phone.
He purposely didn't go for a very high gate on the basis that the extra cost involved wouldn't have actually made the farm any more secure.
"If the gate is very high the intruder is just going to climb over the wall instead," says Mr Revington.
"The fact is, if someone really wants to get into your yard, they'll get in no matter what. That's where your next line of defence comes into play."
On the question of farm lights, Revington is a firm believer in having plenty of them.
"Thieves don't like lights, but I never really realised how true this really was until I saw that video footage of the last bunch that tried to rob diesel," he stated.
"They hugged the shadows all around the yard for the entire 30 minutes that they were here."
There are three things to consider when erecting lighting – positioning, light intensity, and whether you choose to leave the lights on all night, according to security specialist Keith Daly.
"A well lit yard is certainly a deterrent for thieves and it means that cameras pick things in higher resolution rather than relying on infrared.
"But it could also be argued that a lit-up premises is a magnet for attention.
"And you have to factor in the extra cost too," says Mr Daly, whose Total Security Systems installed all the elements on Mr Revington's farm.
"A 500W halogen bulb is a good light, and they're also very reasonably priced at €25 each (including a sensor). But if it's left on every night for an average of eight hours at a cost of 8c/kWh, it uses up about €120 in electricity a year," says Mr Daly.
"A 50W LED is the opposite in that it only costs a tenth to run, but it costs about €80 to buy, and the light intensity isn't just as good as the halogen. The halfway house is the sodium light, but their drawback is that they take so long to heat up when they first come on, so they are not suited to a sensor type situation."
Positioning is also important, even down to the placement of a photocell.
"The placement of these can alter the start time for a light by up to an hour so it's worth keeping in mind when you are erecting these," says Mr Daly.
There was a time when the only camera a farmer ever considered installing was to keep an eye on the cows calving. However, the increased brazenness of thieves, coupled with the decreasing cost of the technology, has prompted the likes of Andrew to install six cameras around his yard.
"By the time I got to the yard in May, the lads were gone. But at least I was able to go back and look at the footage taken during that night," says Mr Revington.
"It was only then that I realised that I would have never known that there was anybody in my yard that night if the movement sensors hadn't picked them up. They were here to steal diesel but they were making sure that they didn't damage anything or leave any traces behind them. Instead, they got a few drums filled with I'd say about 20 or 30 litres of fuel from each tractor.
"They actually never went near the main diesel tank, and the only evidence they left behind them was the cap off one of the tractor tanks."
It was the sophistication of the thieves' activity that has convinced Mr Revington that he has been losing diesel for years without ever realising it.
"God knows how much I've lost over the years but at least now I can put my mind at ease," he says.
The footage captured on the cameras during the last raid was examined by the Gardai, and the resolution was good enough for them to recognise some of the characters involved.
"They paid them a visit and even though we weren't able to take it any further than that, I'm happy that we've laid down a marker for these guys that says we're not a soft target anymore," says Mr Revington.
There are both the bullet and dome type cameras installed on Andrew's farm.
"Watch out for the bullet types, because I think they are more prone to having the lens obscured by cobwebs than the dome version. Cobwebs won't bother the camera in daylight, but if they need to operate at night with infrared, they are a big issue," says Mr Revington. He added that the dome camera's Achilles heel are raindrops on the dome, which distort the image captured.
Either camera will typically cost about €150.
Sensors come in various shapes and sizes, depending on what you want to detect. In Andrew Revington's case, his lights and cameras are on all night. So the sensors that trigger his phone alerts are strategically placed beams that will pick up unplanned visitors coming at the yard from various angles.
The real issue is what these sensors trigger in terms of alarms. It can be linked into a siren or bell that sounds straight away, but this has the obvious down-side of upsetting everybody within ear shot each time it sounds. With the possibility of dogs, stock, wildlife and even unsuspecting family, staff or delivery people triggering the alarm, this option is rarely appealing.
Sensors that trigger a phonecall or text alert via a GSM device are more common, and allow the likes of Andrew to view activity on a monitor before raising the alarm. As with the gate, it also allows the system to be managed remotely too.
More information about security options can be accessed at www.totalsecuritysystems.ie
Note: All prices quoted exclusive of VAT.
The location of the recording kit is key to what the bottom line will be in terms of total cost. The cheapest option is to run a cable from the camera into a computer. However, this is not a set-up recommended by Keith Daly.
"The recording gear is going to be a natural target for any thieves intent on destroying the evidence.
"So it should be locked away somewhere safe and preferably not that obvious to locate," he says.
Daly also points out that the handiest place to be able to view the footage at night time will typically be in your house.
The problem is getting the data there, especially if the house is not located in the farmyard.
"There's a couple of different options available," says Daly.
"You can pipe the data along any existing electricity line going from the sheds to the farmhouse. If that requires a lot of digging, the alternative is to broadcast it via a wireless transmitter, which can work for distances of up to 15km, provided they have a clear line of sight."
A pair of these receivers cost about €250.
The cost of the recording box will depend on the number of cameras that it is dealing with.
A four camera set-up would require hardware costing up to €400, while an eight channel system would cost €550.
Once you've transported your data, you then need to be able to store enough of it so that you don't need to delete it every couple of days.
"A hard-drive with one terabyte (1Tb) of storage will cost about €150. This is enough to store about one month of footage from six cameras," he said.
One of the big advantages of the move away from tapes and analogue data is that the imagery can be viewed from any broadband internet connection, including a smart phone.
"You are basically logging into a website that gives you access to your footage, either live or recorded, which can be super-handy if you are away from the yard when something happens," explains Daly.
THE IFA is preparing a national roll-out of an initiative aimed at combating an escalation in farm theft that has been piloted in the Limerick area.
Members are being offered free registration for 'Theft Stop'. Armed with their own unique 'Theft Stop ID', members are then required to discretely mark all their farm machinery with this code.
The initiative is being supported by FBD and the Garda. All participants will also receive products for marking machinery, along with a farm sign to be positioned at the entrance to the farm warning potential thieves that the farm is linked to the 'Theft Stop' scheme.
In the event of a theft all of the members of 'Theft Stop' will be notified with the description of the missing machinery and an online directory of stolen farm machinery will also be maintained. Any machinery recovered by gardai, which carries the 'Theft Stop' marking will be readily identified to the owner through the IFA membership system.
Ger Bergin, chairman of IFA member services, said there has been a 40pc increase in the theft of farm machinery in recent years and with expensive and valuable machinery on every farm, theft prevention and security has never been more important.