A South African farmer has equipped his sheep with cell phones to keep a tab on the flock and prevent livestock thefts from his vast farm.

Whenever Erard Louw, a Cape Town farmer gets a call from his sheep, it’s always a bad news as the phones are programmed to switch on only when the sheep start running, a sign that the thieves might have cut through the fence.

“As they run it gives me a phone call and says ‘sheep one’ or ‘sheep two’ and so on, so at least I know where to start looking because the farm is 750 hectares,” The Cape Times quoted Louw as saying.

Louw reportedly had 27 sheep and 13 lambs stolen 10 days ago, which led him to innovate to protect his animals. He came up with the idea of tying cell phones on to the collars of four sheep in separate flocks.

Louw said that since the police stations are located far away, there is not much point calling the police because either they did not have a vehicle available, or they had no petrol, or the tyres had been stolen, or there was no one who could drive.

According to Louw, cell phones have proved to be useful as as one of the sheep snatchers was caught with the help of the devices.

Stock theft of sheep is a major problem in the Western Cape and has led to sheep farmers leaving the industry. A few sheep-robbers have, however, managed to get away despite the devices.

“The phone did start ringing that night and I went out. I checked all the fences — because they normally cut the fences — and they were all okay and the gates were closed. But the phone kept ringing, so I knew they were running. Then I found a new place where they had cut the fence.”