Thursday, May 23, 2019

Stay vigilant amid big rise in livestock rustling

May 1, 2019 by  
Filed under News & Business

A sharp increase in sheep thefts has prompted warnings for farmers to keep alert for rustlers.

Farm animals worth £2.5m were stolen in 2018 – an 11% rise in cost over two years, according to rural insurer NFU Mutual. More recently, hundreds of ewes were stolen stolen earlier this year from a farm in Tuddenham, Norfolk.

“Thieves are stealing greater numbers of livestock,” said NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist Tim Price.

“A generation ago, rustling was typically a local crime involving a couple of lambs or half a dozen geese being taken ‘for the pot’. Now it’s an organised crime with dozens or even hundreds of sheep worth thousands of pounds being taken in a single raid.”

Unusual activity

Thieves were even using working sheepdogs – some of which have also been stolen – to round up hundreds of sheep which are then loaded into lorries late at night, added Mr Price.

A spate of highly organised, large-scale sheep thefts in recent months suggests the cost of rustling is continuing at high levels, making livestock theft the most costly crime for the UK’s farming sector after agricultural vehicles and farm machinery.

NFU Mutual is also concerned by recent reports of animals being butchered in fields, which is further undermining food safety. The company estimates that rural crime cost the UK countryside £44.5m in 2017.

“Rustling is one of the world’s oldest crimes,” said Mr Price. “Livestock theft is particularly devastating for small farms, as the loss of a number of stock can wipe out profits and disrupt the operation of the farm for years as they rebuild hefted flocks.”

Tracing livestock

Preventing rustling is not as easy as putting a padlock on a building, or fitting a security system to a tractor. But  there are a number of steps farmers can take to reduce the risk. Technology is helping to provide effective ways of tracing stolen livestock (see below).

NFU Mutual has established that there are three distinct types of livestock thefts taking place. The first  involves large scale rustling targeting livestock destined for the food chain. The second is pedigree animals stolen for their high value as breeding stock.

Thirdly, the insurer says criminal gangs are buying and selling on sheep at auctions to launder money. All three types of theft are serious and pose a danger to farmers’ livelihoods – as well as to animal welfare and human health.

Farmers buying stock should check livestock records and ear tags to ensure they are not buying stolen animals. NFU Mutual also advises members of the public to be wary of buying meat from unusual sources because it could be from rustled livestock.

How to deter livestock thieves

Preventing livestock rustling can be difficult. But where possible, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:

Padlock field gates

Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date

Graze livestock in fields away from roads

Check stock regularly – but 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

Ask neighbours to report sightings of unusual vehicles loading sheep

Join a FarmWatch scheme

Source: NFU Mutual

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