Limousin cross suckler cows grazing,© John Eveson/FLPA / imageBROKER/REX Shutterstock

Brazen thieves have made off with livestock worth up to £40,000 from a farm in Northern Ireland.

Four pedigree Limousin heifers, comprising three black heifers – of which two were in-calf – and one red heifer were stolen from a farm in Cromkill Road, Ballymena.

The stolen livestock is valued between £25,000 and £40,000.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said the thieves would have used a large trailer and most likely reversed it into the field.

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It is believed the theft occurred near to Blairs Transport sometime between 12pm on Sunday 18 October and 3.50pm on Wednesday 21 October.

Anyone with information is asked to call the local policing team at Ballymena or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Police have urged members of the rural community to bear this theft in mind if dealing with any livestock and to make other land and livestock owners aware.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that more than 3,200 cattle have been stolen from the counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone in the past three years.

The NI Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) said 3,251 cattle have been stolen or reported stolen since 2013. This year, 611 cattle have already been stolen in the counties.

DUP MLA Lord Morrow told the BBC the figures were “shocking” and he said the recovery rate of 1.7%, or 57 animals, was “appallingly low”.

Lord Morrow said cattle theft was a particular problem in “hotspots” in Northern Ireland.

One producer, who farms near Ballymena but did not want to be named, suggested some “desperate” farmers had been stealing from each other.

“Sheep theft is always in the news, but cattle theft is becoming more common,” he said.

“One of the issues is that Ireland is a subsistence farming country. Farmers here are much smaller – the average herd size is 18.

“Fat cattle prices are 30p/kg lower in Northern Ireland than in England. Yet they are UK cattle. That’s more than £100 an animal – the difference between profit and loss.

“Farmers are really struggling to make a living out of farming. When you get that situation, people resort to desperate measures and do immoral, dishonest things.”

The farmer is not surprised that detection rates were so low. He claimed some unscrupulous farmers were swapping ear tags between cattle.

“The cattle are stolen and the tags will be moved out of them and swapped around,” he said.

“The people who do it prepare for it. They will gather up tags from animals that have died and not been declared. They will use these tags to avoid detection.”