A Hillswick crofter believes two of his lambs were stolen overnight – the latest in what he says is a string of “thefts” of sheep in the area in the past few years.
Laurence Laird of Burnside said that he had been planning to put two Cheviot lambs to the marts on Friday but when he went to crü them at daylight, he found both lambs missing from the hay park at the back of his house, although their mother was still there. The twins were among four Shetland lambs he was to send to the Lerwick mart along with four Cheviots and a few cast ewes.
Mr Laird said he never heard a cheep overnight but the lambs could have been taken by someone with a vehicle when he went to see a Jenny Gilbertson documentary at the Hillswick hall on Thursday evening. He discounted the possibility of an accident as there were no signs of crangs and there was “no way” they would have gone through a fence.
Mr Laird said he had lost five one-year-old hogs from the hill just before they were to be caa’d last year. While he had planned to kill the five hogs for his own use, he believed they and the stolen Cheviots and Suffolks would be for sale.
He said that he knew of other people who had lost sheep including one person who had 10 lambs “stolen” plus valuable Cheviot and Suffolk lambs going missing in the past three years. This had included reports of lambs going missing this year and last in the Eshaness and Hillswick area.
He said: “I feel very sickly about it to be quite honest. It makes you mad.
“It all seems to be hush hush. You never hear about anyone’s livestock getting bigger, but everyone’s lambs are an easy target.”
He said it would be simple matter to de-tag a lamb and replace the markers with your own, thus avoiding initial detection. He was going to move his own animals away from the road as a precaution.
According to Mr Laird it was difficult to put a value on the two lambs, but he said he had recently sold 37 “hoggy lambs” in Aberdeen for £39 per head.
Mr Laird added that he had not reported the theft to the police as he had heard one of the other crofters who had reported missing livestock had been treated with indifference.
“It would be pointless. They are never out long enough to catch a cold,” he said.
National Farmer’s Union Shetland chairman Jim Nicolson said he had heard no first-hand reports of sheep being stolen and that it would be difficult to keep such animals or put them to abattoir or ship them south without being detected.
It would be possible, he said, to swap tags, but any inspection would reveal a discrepancy in the paper work.
Mr Nicolson said that the possibility of a black market with the sheep being slaughtered for sale could not be discounted.
“It would be the only way to effectively dispose of them, to my mind,” he said.
But even this is more problematic nowadays as most people who home kill do so at the abattoir rather than in their own premises, even though this is still legal if standards are met.
Mr Nicolson said: “It’s very, very disappointing for folk that’s losing sheep because a lot of work goes into getting them to the stage of market or for breeding.”
He said there was little reported incidence of sheep theft in Shetland although it was a problem throughout the country.
In the absence of snow there was little likelihood of “black loss” of multiple animals in the hill – in other words disappearing through illness or accident.
Earlier this month a crofter in Nesting put up a £1,000 reward after 18 pure-bred Dutch Texel sheep, valued at £1,100, were reported stolen to the police from a flock of about 200.
A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said the police had had no further reports of sheep thefts in Shetland since that incident.
She added that the Texel theft been thoroughly investigated by the police with door-to-door inquiries and the investigation was continuing.
She urged anyone with information to get in contact with Police Scotland on 101.
Mr Laird was not too impressed, however. As a parting shot for whoever was responsible he added: “I hope that they’re really happy with themselves … thieving off an old pensioner.”