Shear genius...coded markers to help defeat sheep rustlers

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming  and eliminating  the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.
A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming and eliminating the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming – and eliminating – the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton.

TecTracer has been developed by York-based Trace-in-Metal, which pioneered a ground-breaking marking system to protect church roofs from lead thieves, and has now adapted its use for safeguarding livestock, in particular sheep.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming  and eliminating  the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming and eliminating the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

And, subject to the successful completion of the trial, the TecTracer team are to join forces with North Yorkshire Police to launch “Operation Bo Peep!”, which will see the system rolled out region-wide.

Whilst Trace-in-Metal uses ballistics to fire thousands of microdots into metal sheets “marking” them with a unique identifying code, TecTracer uses raddles to ingrain thousands of coded markers into the sheep’s fleece.

Once attached to the animal’s coat, it is extremely easy to identify any sheep that has been TecTracer-marked, and which farm it originated from.

Together with signs advertising the TecTracer making system positioned around farm buildings and fields - combined with an e.alert early warning system linked to the police, farms, abattoirs and auction houses - its developers believe these will be such a deterrent as to render the animals virtually theft proof.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming  and eliminating  the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming and eliminating the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

According to the NFU Mutual Rural Crime Report 2016, livestock rustling remains a huge problem, with costs stubbornly high in Northern Ireland and the North East and South West of England. At a total cost to the UK of £2.9 million, 70 per cent came from these three regions alone.

And whilst in 2015 equine crime is down by a quarter, the cost of livestock theft has risen by seven per cent.

TecTracer director, John Minary, a former senior police detective, said: “Sheep stealing is a major problem for the whole of the UK, but in recent years the North East has been particularly hard hit.

“Since developing Trace-in-Metal, which is Secured by Design accredited, we have been looking at other areas where the technology can be used.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming  and eliminating  the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming and eliminating the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

“And, because the theft of sheep causes financial hardship, untold anxiety and major distress to farmers and their families, we have now adapted it to protect sheep.

“We have been working closely with North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce and the farming community, and TecTracer is now being piloted on farms in North Yorkshire.

“Once the TecTracer microdots have been applied to a fleece, the unique identifying numbers are then uploaded to a database. And, if an animal is stolen, our early warning system then swings into action alerting the police, other farms, abattoirs and livestock auctions.

“By having sheep protected by TecTracer it will certainly make would-be thieves think twice before contemplating stealing them.”

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming  and eliminating  the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

A revolutionary marking system aimed at stemming and eliminating the rising tide of sheep rustling in North Yorkshire is being trialed on a Moors farm near Castleton. Picture: Richard Ponter.

Mr Minary added: “The overall intention of Operation Bo Peep! is to make North Yorkshire a sheep theft free zone. It will provide reassurance to rural communities, and, by imposing a preventative ‘cocoon’ around farms and moorland, it will ceate a deterrent to organised and opportunist criminals.”

Farmer Jonathan Murray, who is trialling the TecTracer system on his flock of 180 sheep, said: “As a livestock farmer, sheep rustling is an increasing worry, that’s why I’m more than happy to help trial TecTracer here on my farm.

“A lot of farmers feel quite isolated and criminals are becoming more resourceful, we therefore need to ensure we are equipped with the latest assets to deter thieves from stealing our property and potentially ruining our livelihoods.”