Cattle and sheep farmers in large areas of Mpumalanga, the Free State and the North West are preparing themselves for an expected increase in livestock theft as the Easter weekend approaches.Stock farmers have been the target of thieves for the past two years. During these raids, cattle and sheep are not only stolen and sold at auctions, but a large number are slaughtered and supplied to bush butcheries in mainly rural areas.With the long weekend around the corner, informants assisting the police's stock theft units and farmers, indicated that there might be a dramatic increase in stock theft in the coming week.Shocking scenes, where animals were slaughtered, greeted many farmers over the past months, says Cecilia Beukes, Stock Theft Information Centre (STIC) chairperson in Ermelo."Thieves usually raid these herds during the night. One of their favourite ways to control a stolen herd before the animals are being slaughtered, is by hacking off the animals' back Achilles tendons. The animals then can't walk," says Beukes.Many slaughtered livestock are also earmarked for the black market in Gauteng. Sometimes stolen animals are loaded on light delivery vehicles, tied up and transported to black market meat sellers.READ: Livestock owners urged to be cautious with their animals"Farmers are losing millions of rand per year due to stock theft. Although there is success in recovering some stolen stock, farmers just can't plug the hole," says Beukes.Earlier this week, the police were tipped off about eight Senepol cattle that were stolen from Sakkie Botes, a livestock farmer from Belfast.The animals were crammed into the back of a panel van. One of the cattle, which cost R25 000 each, had to be killed due to injuries."The past year, I lost 34 cattle to the value of R900 000," says Botes.Brigadier Leonard Hlathi, provincial police spokesperson, said they were seriously concerned about the threat."We will do anything in our power to stop the illegal slaughter of cattle and sheep. Farmers are suffering huge losses and the stock theft units are planning several actions to stop the onslaught."