British police are investigating a series of incidents in which sheep have been butchered alive on a Manchester farm.
The sheep, which included several in-lamb ewes, are believed to have been rounded up at night using a dog and then butchered by thieves.
More than 10 sheep had their hind legs removed from the hip before later dying from their injuries. It is believed the joints were stolen to be sold as meat.
The attacks took place over four nights on an out-farm owned by 65-year-old farmer William Perkins and his wife Joan.
The horrific incidents follow reports from the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society that animals were being dismembered and stolen from Dartmoor national park in Devon. The society said sheep had joints like the leg and shoulder carefully cut away.
Tim Price, rural affairs spokesman at insurance company NFU Mutual, said there had been a massive increase in livestock rustling over the last two years, due to the economic downturn and rising meat prices.
NFU Mutual estimated that more than 67,000 sheep were stolen in Britain last year and rustling cost farmers there more than £6m (€7.5m) in 2011.
The incidence of sheep rustling in Ireland is also on the increase, with more than 340 sheep taken from two Antrim farms in August. The sheep were valued at more than €50,000.
ICSA sheep chairman Paul Brady said several farmers had reported sheep thefts in counties Sligo and Donegal in recent weeks.
"They must be re-selling them through marts or sending them to the factory after removing their ear tags," he maintained.
Mr Brady has called for the introduction of a pilot scheme whereby a microchip is placed in the sheep's stomach so that, at slaughter, the abattoir can check who is the registered farmer.
In October the remains of three lambs were found in a field near Ballinagh, Co Cavan. The animals had been butchered in-situ, with only the heads and hides left behind by the thieves.