Sheep-savvy thief steals U.K. herd worth up to 25,000 pounds

A flock of 271 sheep was stolen yesterday from a farmer in Ramsbottom, Bury, U.K., a town about 15 miles north of Manchester. Sheep thefts are not unheard of in the U.K., but this may be a new record; at least 300 sheep have been stolen nationwide in the past year, according to the National Farmers' Union. The NFU says sheep rustling is a noted problem in the country.

A herding theft of this volume is also not easy. "Whoever did it knew all about handling sheep," said Farmer William Holden, who owns the sheep. "You couldn't round that number up and drive them all away without knowing what you're doing." Police said whoever directed the crime likely herded the sheep through a pen and into the back of a large vehicle, and had to have had a "knowledge of animal husbandry."

The price of lamb meat may be to blame. Lamb meat prices have risen almost £2 per keg in the last year, up to £4.40 per kg in 2010 from £2.70 per kg in 2009. "The value of the euro means lamb is no longer being imported and so British lamb prices have rocketed," NFU Northwest spokesman Carl Hudspith said, "so that may be a reason why thieves want to take sheep."

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