Thieves have stolen more than 100 in-lamb ewes from a farm in Cornwall.
The sheep, worth about £11,000, were among 1,700 animals put out for winter at various locations around Fentongollan Farm, Roseland.
Farmer Jeremy Hosking only realised 102 ewes were missing when the animals were brought back for lambing in February.
Mr Hosking said he believed his flock was repeatedly targeted by skilled thieves over several months.
How to prevent sheep rustling
While it can be difficult to protect sheep, there are a number of steps farmers can take to reduce the risk of rustling, says NFU Mutual.
- Padlock field gates
- Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up-to-date
- When possible, graze sheep in fields away from roads
- Check stock regularly and vary times of feeding and check-ups
- Ask neighbours to report any sightings of unusual vehicles loading sheep
- Join a FarmWatch scheme
“I think they know us, know our systems and know where we keep our sheep,” Mr Hosking said in an interview with a regional newspaper.
“Whoever is doing it has been very professional. It has been done at night, and they have taken them in batches from different sites so it would go unnoticed.”
The sheep were part of a three-year trial breeding programme aimed at producing Aberdale hybrid sheep that are capable of producing more lambs at birth, making them particularly valuable, he added in the article in the Western Daily Press.
See also: Sheep rustlers strike again
Sheep rustling has increased steadily in recent years, which has coincided with an increase in sheep prices.
In recent months there have been a spate of thefts across the country, including in Northumberland, County Durham and Yorkshire.
In April, more than 40 in-lamb ewes worth about £7,000 were taken from a farm in Hapton, Lancashire.
Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs spokesman, said sheep theft cost the industry £6m a year.
“High meat prices and improved security on farm vehicles appear to be leading to a resurgence in livestock rustling,” he said
“In the past few years we have seen a worrying increase in thefts in all livestock-rearing parts of the UK.”
NFU Mutual claim figures show the cost of rustling soared by 170% in 2011, followed by a 3.6% increase in 2012.
See more on rural crime