Sheep theft is on the rise, We all pay the price, and it is our health that is at stake!

​When sheep get stolen, it is not only the farmer that looses, this pernicious crime damages communities and puts public health at risk. In this article, Trace-in-Metal Director Anette Wahlgren discusses this very modern crime. 

A NFU report on rural crime show that the total cost was almost £40 million in 2016. For the Midlands and North East England, the two worst hit areas, the combined cost was £14 million. Although theft of vehicles such as Quads and Land Rover Defenders account for much of the increase, theft of livestock amounted to more than £2.2 million. Although 2016 saw a 4% decline in 2016 the trend in 2017, despite initiatives by a number of police forces, rural crime is sharply up with an increase of 20% in the first six months of 2017.

A quick internet survey of newspaper articles shows that almost 3500 sheep and lambs have been stolen countrywide in the first nine months. Where a monetary loss has been given it is clear that the total value of these reported thefts must be in the region of at least £300K.  With two rams, each valued at £500, stolen in one raid it is easy to see that the figure could be in the low region as not all thefts get reported. The additional cost for a farmer is not only an increase in Insurance premiums, stolen livestock reared for breeding will have to be replaced with animals having the desired characteristics that have been achieved, sometimes over generations. But statistics are but a numerical expression of the impact of rural crime, it can also be a threat to public health.

The requirements for livestock being sold at auctions, such as the presence of ear tags and movement licences, leads to a conclusion that stolen animals are killed in illegal abattoirs and that the meat is being sold on the black market. Meat from unregulated slaughter houses poses several health risks as they are not subject to hygiene checks and no assessments for diseases, bacteria or parasites are carried out. If a sheep has recently been dipped, the highly toxic chemicals used might be transferred to the meat if not enough time is given between the dipping and slaughter. Veterinary medicines that have not passed through the animal’s systems could also be present. 

Breeding and rearing sheep takes up a farmers valuable time and having the animals stolen have a large impact both emotionally and on a breeding program. Years of selecting the best lambs, money spent buying rams and ewes, the effort of feeding and watching over them is suddenly wiped out. The sustainability of a rural livelihood is negatively affected and can have an impact on the whole local community. Farmers are encouraged by the police to be vigilant, to keep a watch on suspicious vehicles - all adding stress to already busy working lives. The NFU rural crime report says being watched is the biggest worry for rural people. Some are contemplating giving up farming altogether - a decision that would break up networks of neighbours built over generations.

Police forces have had their budgets cut and many have acknowledged that less serious crimes were not likely to be followed up if there was little chance of identifying the culprit. After 100 sheep were stolen from two farms near Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, PCSO Glyndwr James said “Livestock thefts, in particular theft of sheep, provide for challenging investigations. Forensic opportunities in livestock investigation can be very limited.” The TecTRACER livestock tracing system gives the police this missing forensic tool. Each sheep marked with TecTRACER fluid will carry thousands of microdots tying the animal to a specific farm or flock. Just one microdot will be proof of ownership and give the police the irrefutable evidence that they need to prosecute a thief or a reciever of stolen sheep.  

Operation Bo Peep!​ Is a partnership initiative between North Yorkshire Police and Trace-in-Metal, who have developed the TecTRACER livestock tracing system. The operation is being rolled out across the North Yorkshire Police area, and vulnerable farmers and past victims of sheep theft are being encouraged to mark their sheep with forensically coded marking fluid. TecTRACER is the latest innovation from Trace-in-Metal, and is aimed at deterring criminal activity in rural communities.