A farmer in south west England has been forced into desperate measures to save his 250-strong flock from sheep rustlers by dipping his blackface ewes into a harmless orange dye.
John Heard, whose flock roam across the farmland around the wilds of Dartmoor, has lost around 200 sheep in the last three years to rustlers, who are tempted by the £140-a-head ($200) livestock. Mr Heard's son James suggested the bright-coloured dye as a way to deter the thieves - and it has worked - the 48-year-old farmer has not lost a single one of his flock since the dye was cast. The dye makes the sheep more so visible thieves are giving them a wide berth.
The dye causes the flock no harm and with rustlers now deterred, the ewes are now lambing in peace. The dye will eventually fade away and it has been causing some bemused looks from locals and visitors to the Dartmoor area.
On a more serious note, the National Union of Farmers has warned that due to financial hardship across the country, a huge increase in rural crime is blighting farmers. Sheep rustling is just one crime affecting farmers and rural dwellers and now the theft of so-called "Liquid Gold" or heating oil is becoming a major problem as rural communities are now suffering a spate of oil thefts following a price hike in the commodity, the leading rural insurer NFU Mutual has said.
A spokeswoman for the farming community insurers told the Daily Mail, "There has been a sizeable rise in livestock rustling, particularly targeting sheep. The price of lamb is so high and in a recession people may be more willing to accept meat from unreliable sources, but stolen sheep tend to be taken to unlicensed abattoirs raising the issue of meat being sold without the normal health checks. If you buy from those sources you obviously cannot be absolutely certain the meat is fit for human consumption. In the circumstances orange sheep seem like a very good idea."
Meanwhile Mr Heard said other farmers, who had been shocked when they first spotted the orange flock, are now willing the try the method if it deters the would-be rustlers.