FOUR lambs have been stolen from farmland near Chipping Norton.
The three-month-old animals were probably enticed using sheep feed, says owner John Kench.
Mr Kench, who uses the farm in Hook Norton Road to supply his butchery, JR Kench Butchers, in the town’s High Street, admitted he is unlikely to see them again.
The theft comes as a spate of sheep rustling coincides with a rise in rural crime nationally.
He said: “It’s part of my livelihood and I feel angry because of the amount of work and effort I’ve put into rearing them.
“I speak to other farmers and there’s a lot of livestock being stolen in the area, but it doesn’t get reported because people don’t think anyone will do anything about it.
“I’m not expecting to ever see them again because they aren’t really traceable and people could just kill and eat them.”
Mr Kench, 52, has 40 ewes and lambs at his farm, as well as chickens and ducks.
He bottle-fed the four missing lambs – worth about £100 each – after their mother died at birth, and said they would run over to him every morning when he entered the field.
The father-of-two last saw them on Tuesday night but realised something was wrong when they were missing the next morning.
He asked neighbouring farmers if they had seen them and checked fences for damage, but found only a feed bucket in the middle of the field.
He said: “They are so used to human contact so always come straight over to me. When they didn’t appear I thought something was wrong.
“I counted them up and found I was four short. My field is stock-proof so there’s not really any way out. I only found the feed bucket so I think someone has taken some feed from the shed and enticed them.
“The most annoying thing is when you bottle feed them every three or four hours and then someone goes and pinches them.
“There were two that were particularly good and I was holding back for breeding use in a couple of years’ time.”
A report by NFU Mutual last week showed the cost of livestock theft increased by 25 per cent between 2012 and 2013.
The rural economy lost £44.5m last year, but in Oxfordshire the cost of crime dropped from £1m to £680,000.
Police are investigating.
Spokeswoman Connie Primmer said: “If anyone is aware of someone suddenly in possession of lambs we would like them to let us know if it is suspicious.”
Call the non-emergency 101 number.
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