CHICKEN rustlers have struck in neighbouring Dorset villages three times in a week.
The thefts, part of a growing UK trend according to a leading bird conservation group, took place in Lytchett Matravers and Lytchett Minster.
Experts fear thieves are targeting householders who keep their own chickens because the price of domestic fowl has risen sharply.
Bernie Landshoff, of the Domestic Fowl Trust, says some pure breeds like the ones stolen in Dorset can fetch more than £100 at auction.
The first theft took place at an address on Dorchester Road, Lytchett Minster, between 7pm, January 27, and 7am the next day.
Several poultry hens were snatched. Then, the following Friday, the same victim reported more stolen chickens and the theft of electric fencing.
During the same night chicken feed and electric fencing was stolen from another property in Poole Road, Lytchett Matravers.
PC Adam Taylor said: “Several of the chickens are exotic and rare breeds – including Brahma and Silkie chickens.
“One of the victims has devoted a lot of time to set up a small holding and these have been very upsetting incidents.”
The Domestic Fowl Trust says chicken thefts, driven by rising prices, are happening more regularly across the country.
Mrs Landshoff said: “Some of them are stolen to order, some are stolen then taken straight to auction.”
“Our birds are around £30 each, but I’ve seen some pure-breeds sell for £100 or more.
“I have even heard some of these stolen birds are sold on poultry websites.
“When you could get a bird for £5, no-one cared. But now that keeping poultry is more popular and prices are higher, we are seeing these thefts increase.
“It is a really popular hobby – it is the fastest growing pet market there is at the moment.”