Belfast Telegraph

Sheep taken by rustlers with an eye for quality

By Linda Stewart

Farmers in the hills near Larne have been warned to be on their guard after sheep flocks were targeted by rustlers with a difference.

Unlike most cases of livestock theft, these criminals took the time to pick through the flocks and choose the most valuable animals before making off with their spoils.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual said it hasn’t seen anything like this elsewhere in the UK as livestock thieves usually take whatever they can get, spending as little time as they can on the farmers’ land.

Thieves are targeting successful sheep breeders, rounding up the animals and picking out the ewe lambs, ignoring the ram lambs which are worth far less, the company said.

Glenarm farmer Stephen Thompson said he has lost nine lambs and six sheep over two separate occasions this summer.

“I would say they were worth about £100 each,” he said.

“I’m up in Glenarm at the back of Slemish and I wouldn’t see them every day.”

The animals targeted were valuable Cheviot sheep — the less expensive Suffolks were ignored.

Due to new tagging regulations, it has become much more difficult to acquire sheep from the Republic so this less common breed is much sought-after, Stephen said.

I keep them for breeding. That is probably why they were lifted - because they’re hard to get,” he said.

“There wouldn't be a lot of people would have the ones I have — they’re hard to get. They would be rare.

“One of my neighbours lost 12 to 15 sheep, another has lost eight to 10.

“They have picked out the most expensive ones — they didn’t take any of the male lambs at all. They seem to know what they're doing.”

Local NFU Mutual representative James McCluggage suspects a gang is involved.

“We had this one strange case where they were able to go in and pick the lambs they wanted and let the rest go. This farmer was a successful breeder and maybe that is why,” he said.

“I’ve never heard of this before and I’ve no idea where they would have gone. This would have taken time, that’s why I would say there was more than one person doing it. These were not for meat production, they were used as replacement ewes. They’re too good to kill. They would be used as breeding stock for other farmers.”

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