Pointing to likely criminal gang activity and stealing to order, Robin Swann, an Ulster Unionist Party assemblyman and member of Stormont’s Agriculture Committee, said cattle theft is particularly prevalent on farms bordering the Republic of Ireland.
Swann has called on justice and farming ministers to urgently devise a plan of action in conjunction with the police service of Northern Ireland to combat the problem.
"Cattle rustling is a serious problem for the agricultural industry, not just in the constituency, but right across Ulster, costing it millions of pounds and leaving farmers doubting whether their cattle are even secure on their own private land," said Swann. "Indeed, the scale and audacity of recent thefts will have surprised even the most hardened observer."
Cattle reported as missing or stolen totalled 3,070 in 2010/11, 2,807 in 2011/12 and 3,014 head in 2012/13. Areas bordering the Republic saw higher incidences of missing cattle, with the Dungannon and Armagh Divisional Veterinary areas reporting 788 and 497 cases of theft respectively last year. Cases were also high in Enniskillen, Omagh and Newry.
"The other cause for concern is the relative uniformity of the numbers of cattle stolen on an annual basis," said Swann. "It would appear that rather than being simply opportunist thefts, a large number of these cattle are being stolen to order."
Swann said he was unable to obtain numbers for missing or stolen sheep.
While the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s database does not currently differentiate between missing or stolen animals, a new system is in development.