A sheep farmer disturbed a gang of rustlers making off with one of his in-lamb ewes in the middle of the night.
Oliver Johnson was woken from his sleep to the sound of loud voices at Johnson’s Farm, Wasperton, Warwickshire.
When he investigated he saw a man fleeing with one of his in-lamb Texel cross North Country Mules slung over his shoulder. The farmer believes the thieves would have stolen more sheep if he had not woken.
The incident was recorded on CCTV just before 2am on Thursday 7 March and the footage has been passed to the police.
When the couple played back the tape, it showed one of the men rounding up the sheep into a smaller paddock. He then beat the animal, put it over his shoulders and ran off before escaping in a van that was being driven by an accomplice.
Mr Johnson’s wife, Charlotte, released the footage on Facebook and appealed to the public for help to catch those responsible.
The clip has gone viral on Facebook, attracting 727,000 views and more than 1,500 comments.
Following the online appeal, a woman contacted the Johnsons to say she had found the remains of the sheep, including its fleece, skin, head, legs and ears and two lambs in a carrier bag outside a block of flats on a housing estate in Coventry.
‘No need for animal cruelty’
Mrs Johnson was able to identify the sheep by its electronic ear tag.
She told Farmers Weekly: “We are tenants on a county council farm and we have worked very hard to build up our business.
“I feel angry and very upset. There was absolutely no need for this type of animal cruelty.
“We think the sheep was stolen for the illegal meat trade. They were probably hoping to take more sheep, but my husband caught them in the act.”
Mrs Johnson said she had a few lambs stolen last year and rural crime appeared to be getting worse in her area.
She has retrieved the remains of the sheep, but is still waiting for officers to come to the farm to carry out DNA testing.
Warwickshire Police is linking this incident with a string of similar incidents in which sheep have either been stolen, or butchered and killed in the field for their meat.
On 9 March, officers were called to a farm in Banbury Road, Gaydon, after a farmer reported that ewes had been killed and butchered in a field.
Similar incidents have also taken place in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire and officers are working with neighbouring forces as part of the investigation.
Carol Cotterill, rural crime officer at Warwickshire Police, said: “Theft and illegal butchery of sheep is a serious offence, which can cause suffering to the animals and repercussions for farmers.
“We are warning all sheep farmers to stay extra vigilant, particularly those who have fields in more remote locations. Always ensure gates are locked and are in good working order.
“There is also concern that if offenders are chasing the sheep before catching them, this may cause problems with the rest of the flock, such as health risks to the ewes and unborn lambs.
“Members of the public should also be mindful of being offered meat for sale in suspicious circumstances.”
Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101.
Five ways to protect your livestock from theft
Things to consider to protect your livestock:
1. Lock the gates
Locking gates makes access more difficult for thieves, and the longer they need to be there, the greater the chance that someone will see them.
2. Use landscaping in very vulnerable fields
The theft of animals requires the use of a vehicle. In fields that are especially vulnerable, or if you have lost animals from theft already, think about using landscaping, bollards, removable cattle grids and the like to prevent vehicles gaining access. Ditches, mounds and hedges will also help.
3. Use remote alarms
If you can predict the routes the criminals will take, consider using an alarm system to alert you to gates opening and closing, or the use of a track.
4. Distinctively mark your animals
If your sheep end up in another farmer’s field, it is more difficult to hide the animals in his/her own flock if they are marked differently. Tattoos and other marking methods are less effective, but at least you can identify the sheep if they turn up at some point.
5. Use hidden trail cameras
If you have a field where animals regularly go missing, you might consider the use of a hidden camera as a cost-effective way to get some idea of who is responsible. The top-of-the-range models will even send images to you over the mobile phone network.
(Source: West Mercia Police)