Police found three sheep crammed into the back of a van pulled over on the motorway.
The Vauxhall van was stopped by police at junction five on the northbound M6 in the early hours of Wednesday (23 October).
“Three suspected stolen sheep in rear, possibly stolen in the Warwickshire area,” tweeted the Central Motorway Police Group, with an accompanying picture.
Seven people were taken into custody for the suspected theft. The vehicle was also found to have a defective tyre.
Ear tags had been removed from all three sheep, believed to be Suffolks, in a bid to conceal their identity.
One of the animals was found to be dead. The police called in the RSPCA to care for the remaining two sheep.
The incident follows increasing concern over livestock rustling in the Midlands.
Police in south Shropshire are stepping up efforts to trace sheep rustlers following a spate of thefts in the area.
Officers are carrying out spot checks on livestock vehicles and working with other agencies to trace stolen carcases at meat processors.
In one incident last month, dozens of lambs were stolen from a field.
The theft prompted calls for rural residents to report any suspicious activity especially sightings of lambs being loaded from fields into vehicles.
In particular, police have urged people to record the registration numbers of suspicious vehicles.
Sergeant Adrian Woolley said: “We are keen to raise awareness of this problem and encourage people in rural areas to report any activity which raises their suspicions.”
Following the increase in lamb thefts, public protection officers are making spot checks on premises where meat is processed or sold, including wholesale butchers.
“The checks will continue throughout the year,” said Sergeant Woolley. “Officers are also being tasked with stopping vehicles thought to be carrying livestock or game.
“We suspect that the rise in meat prices has fuelled this type of crime and we also suspect that the slaughtering could be happening in residential areas.”
“We are also appealing for information regarding random sales of meat in pubs as well as details concerning the identity of those responsible for the thefts.”
Police call for vigilance after sheep rustling