Silence of the Lambs

Connie  Duffy


Connie Duffy

Heartless thieves are stealing baby lambs all over Donegal. A Manorcunningham farmer has become the latest victim in a new scam that’s sweeping the county.

Heartless thieves are stealing baby lambs all over Donegal. A Manorcunningham farmer has become the latest victim in a new scam that’s sweeping the county.

Patrick Gallagher (left) from Galdonagh had been putting his Texel Cross lambs out in different fields everyday since the start of January at Ardagh, St Johnston.

“I put two lambs out with the ewe and when I went to feed them the next morning they had disappeared. They were only two days old and strong. It wasn’t a fox, I’m sure of that, it was a two legged fox because he left a torch and a glove behind him. This also happened three years ago but this time they appear to be working in doubles, taking two at a time.

Mr Gallagher said he suspected they were either being stolen to sell on or they were giving them to their children as pets.

“I know of at least six lambs taken in the past fortnight. It’s the same principle as some woman going into the hospital and stealing an infant child from it’s mother. I went back to the same field the lambs were originally stolen to leave more ewes and young lambs off and one of the ewes that lost her lambs came up to the gate to inspect the lambs I left off to see if her’s were there. If a ewe loses one lamb it will do her udders harm and obviously they’d be distressed for a while too.”

He added that if anyone was offered a lamb from anyone who didn’t keep a herd of sheep you should automatically be suspicious. You don’t rear a lamb without a ewe like you don’t get a child without its mother, he said.

“It money lost but thieves like this will be back again if they are not clamped down on. It also causes me and the flock stress. It’s got to the stage that if we’re not vigilant what will they be stealing next,” he said.

People who produce lambs for Easter had their ewes giving birth back in December so the lambs would be 40-50 pounds in spring, and economically worth raising. The stolen lambs won’t be off milk for three months and they can only have the very high fat ewes’ milk. If someone tries to feed them cows’ milk or other baby food products, they will simply die from dehydration caused by severe diarrhoea. As well, the babies’ digestive systems can’t absorb hay or grains, which will just pass right through. There is a ewes’ milk substitute but it’s very expensive, making it economically pointless to try and raise the lambs to sell. As well, the thieves cannot take the animals to an auction or slaughterhouse because animals that young are not accepted and they don’t have the legally required identification tags that allow government authorities to track an animal from the farm where it was born through the entire food chain. As well, it’s almost impossible to get a ewe to nurse a lamb that isn’t its own so trying to find a foster mom is pointless.

IFA Chairman PJ McMonagle said he had received several reports of this latest phenomenon.

“With this mild weather when ewes have lambed farmers are putting them out to the fields. After they feed their ewes at night they come back in the morning only to find them bleating, calling out to their lambs which have been stolen. I’d appeal to everyone on the road to be very vigilant at what’s happening. Men’s livelihoods are in danger here.”

He added as well as Mr Gallagher’s incident he knew of lambs been taken at Ballinalecky Crossroads near Raphoe, Convoy and Ballybofey.

“I believe they are being stolen to order. Lambs at 40 kilos are worth €100 plus. Stealing a lamb and selling them for €15 to €20 can sell them rise to around €150 to €200 at Easter time. This has possibly always been happening but its more common this year. Maybe the four legged

fox has been taking them in the past but there’s more two legged foxes running around now,” he said.