A leading insurer has warned farmers to take more steps to protect their animals after claims reports showed crooks are stealing them in higher numbers than ever before.
NFU Mutual estimated rustling cost farmers over £6.2 million in 2015, and is working closely with police to tackle the growing problem.
It is also calling on farmers and butchers buying stock to check livestock records and ear tags carefully to make sure they are not purchasing stolen animals, and advising members of the public not to buy meat from unusual sources.
NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist Tim Price said: “A decade ago, rustling was typically a local crime involving half a dozen lambs or one bullock. Now it is an organised crime with some farmers losing over a hundred sheep in one theft.
“Based on claims reported by farmers, NFU Mutual, which insures three quarters of the UK’s farmers, estimates over 85,000 sheep, cattle, pigs and poultry could have been stolen in the UK during 2015.
“In total, when other insurance company customers and non-insured losses are taken into account, we estimate rustling cost UK farmers over £6.2 million in 2015.”
Mr Price said early claims data from 2016 showed a drop in claim costs, but added there were still very worrying hot spots, particularly in Wales.
Lorna Sidebottom, 23, received the devastating news while on holiday in Venice that 71 ewes had been stolen from the farm in Staffordshire - along with around 128 lambs last week.