Police officers have made seven arrests after they found what they believed was an illegal abattoir in Shropshire.
Officers stumbled across a 'disturbing scene' at a residential address in Arleston, near Telford, 'with a large amount of blood on the driveway.'
Police were initially called out to an incident involving a dog being hit by a car, Welsh Mercia Police said.
As part of their associated enquiries officers attended an address in Charles Road where they found the suspected illegal abattoir.
Inside, they discovered three sheep in a 'very poor state of health' and 'one sadly dead'.
The force is now urging the public to report any suspicious sales of meat.
Inspector Craig Smith explained that illegal butchery and sheep theft - crimes that cost farmers £3 million last year - are 'serious offences'.
"Not only are there risks in consuming meat when it isn’t from a reputable source but illegal butchery can also cause unnecessary suffering to the animal," he said.
"Rural crime such as this also has a serious emotional and financial impact on our farming communities, of course, there are financial repercussions whose animals are stolen.
“We’ve launched an investigation and I would ask our communities across the whole West Mercia police area to contact us if you think someone is selling illegal meat."
Inspector Smith added: “I would also like to ask those in our more rural areas to report suspicious activity around farmland, particularly whilst there is less traffic on the road due to the current lockdown.
"By reporting anything suspicious in or near fields of livestock you can make a significant difference to helping us stop this type of crime.”
The men, aged between 18 and 36, were arrested at the address on Thursday 16 April on suspicion of theft.
How do I prevent livestock rustling?
Preventing rustling is not as easy as putting a padlock on a building or fitting a security system to a tractor.
However, there are a number of steps farmers can take to reduce the risk and technology is now providing effective ways of tracing stolen livestock.
To deter livestock thieves, NFU Mutual advises farmers to:
• Ensure stock is clearly marked and records are up to date
• When possible graze livestock in fields away from roads
• Check stock regularly - and vary times of feeding/check ups
• Consider a high-tech marking system such as TecTracer which puts thousands of coded microdot markers into a sheep’s fleece
• Join a Farm or Rural Watch scheme to share information about rural crime in your area
• Ask neighbours to report any suspicious sightings to the police, or to give information 100% anonymously to the Rural Crime Hotline 0800 783 0137
• Dial 999 immediately if an incident is taking place - do not approach criminals