Rare hens are being stolen to order by gangs of chicken rustlers as prices for these birds soar, according to an article in The Independent.

An estimated 1500 birds have been stolen this year to meet the demand for rare breeds such as the Orpington, Marans and Welsummer. Increased demand has been put down to recent TV chef programmes promoting free range poultry.

Light Sussex chickens

The article highlights that birds are being taken largely from people keeping poultry for the first time, often in their back garden, who are prepared to pay considerably over the market price for a good-looking hen.

A leading bird conservation group highlighted the recent rise in thefts. Emma Gleed, of the Domestic Fowl Trust, said: “Criminals are now feeding the market. Rare and pure-breed chickens are being stolen by organised thieves from farms and breeders across the country.

Prices for these birds have increase to as much as £250 for a chocolate Orpington and Buff Orpintons are fetching 10 times the price paid the same time last year.

Popular breeds include Orpington, Welsummer, Maran, Wynadotte and Light Sussex.