Large-scale sheep thefts are on the rise, according to new figures from NFU Mutual, which has released top tips to help farmers deter livestock thieves.
The latest figures suggest farm animals worth £3 million were stolen from UK farms last year. Sheep thefts over the past two years have contributed to a 19.4 per cent rise in value, making rustling one of the costliest crimes for the farming sector, after agricultural vehicle and machinery theft.
Rural affairs specialist Rebecca Davidson said: “Rustling has always been an aspect of farming but ten years ago we would rarely see claims of more than a dozen sheep taken in one go. We are now regularly getting reports of fifty to a hundred sheep being taken in a single raid and it is devastating for farmers as they deal with the aftermath.
“As well as causing untold suffering to sheep, which may be in lamb when they are stolen, rustling is causing high levels of anxiety for farmers who have built up their flocks over many years.”
She added that rustlers are becoming more skilled and organised, quickly loading sheep onto trailers and lorries at night, and gangs are now using working sheepdogs, which have also been stolen.
The company says there are three distinct types of livestock theft currently taking place – large scale theft of livestock destined for the food chain; pedigree rams stolen for their value as breeding stock; and money laundering by gangs who buy and sell sheep at auctions to launder money.
One of the most alarming trends NFU Mutual has seen develop in recent years is the illegal butchery of animals in the field, which is deeply disturbing for farmers and their families, as well as being financially damaging.
“We believe that meat from stolen animals is being sold on the black market and undermining welfare standards,” Rebecca said. “Meat which has been butchered in unhygienic conditions, and may be from animals which have had medical treatment, poses a real threat to human health.”
The public are being advised to look out for the Red Tractor logo and not buy meat from unusual sources.
NFU Mutual’s top tips for deterring thieves are:
- Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date
- When possible graze livestock in fields away from roads
- Check stock regularly – and vary times of feeding/check ups
- Consider a high-tech marking system such as TecTracer, which puts thousands of coded microdot markers into a sheep’s fleece
- Join a Farm or Rural Watch scheme to share information about rural crime in your area
- Ask neighbours to report any suspicious sightings to the police, or to give information 100 per cent anonymously to the Rural Crime Hotline 0800 783 0137, www.ruralcrimehotline.co.uk
- Dial 999 immediately if an incident is taking place – do not approach criminals.