MACABRE pictures showing the pathetic carcass of a beheaded prize ram have sent shockwaves of revulsion across Saddleworth villages.

The four-year-old ram, worth more than £4,000, belonged to the highly respected Crowther family who have farmed the Pennine hills for generations.

But head of the family, Chris Crowther, still in a state of shock from the morbid discovery, said: “In all the years tending flocks in these hills I’ve never seen anything like it.

“My son, Chris junior, got a call from a local saying there was a dead sheep at Pob Green, Diggle.

“But when he got to the site he discovered the head from one of our prized Lonk rams had been cleanly severed from its body and was missing.

“And the ram’s ear with its identity tag had been neatly clipped from its head and left on the grass. Who would do such a thing?

“It was a beautiful Lonk ram with magnificent, sweeping curled horns. Why would anyone want to destroy such a magnificent creature?”

Mr Crowther said he believed the ram may have been killed by a crossbow. One theory is the head may have been stolen for the horns which could be fashioned into ornate tops on walking sticks or used as decorative souvenirs.

The Lonk sheep breed is over 200 years old and it is prized because it is a very good looking free ranging sheep of the mountain class and able to withstand tough conditions.

Improved and pure bred by farmers in the Lancashire and Yorkshire Pennines since the inception of the flock book from the breed in 1905 its main qualities are hardiness, size, health and freedom from disease, colour and longevity.

Matthew Gummerson, the National Farmers Union agent, said: “It is truly shocking to see such a cruel and criminal act being carried out on a sheep.

“We strongly oppose any behaviour of this type. Acts like this on livestock are not only impacting the farm businesses but also very distressing for the farmers involved. We would encourage all members of the local community to keep an out for such actions taking place and report it immediately to the police.”

And a spokesperson for the National Sheep Association declared: “We have never seen anything like this before.

“We abhor this behaviour, it is neither humane for the sheep, or acceptable for the farmer to have to find their sheep in such an unpleasant way.

“It impacts both on their mental health and their business and should be cracked down on by law enforcement.

“Anything like this should be immediately reported to the police,” added the spokesperson.

There have been reports of sheep being slaughtered in fields in other parts of Britain and others killed and daubed with ritualistic signs.

The incident has been reported to the police.