Hawke's Bay police found a hatchback crammed with four men and 11 allegedly stolen sheep.
A routine patrol came across the hatchback in a rural area near Hastings at 1am this morning, a police spokesman said.
The sheep had been hog-tied, and were lucky to still be alive.
"The constables were appalled to find the sheep in this condition."
The four men have been charged with theft and ill treatment of the animals.
They will appear in the Hastings District Court.
The sheep have been returned to their owners.
In May 2010 Hastings police caught four men with sheep forced into the boot and back seat of a Mazda 626.
Two of the sheep had suffocated.
The animals were butchered with saws and a butcher's knife on dirty garage floors and the meat sold to others or eaten by the men.
John Kaka, 23, and Jonathon Dunick, 23, were given the jail sentences in Napier District Court and their accomplice Desi Cook, 23, was sentenced to four months' home detention and 100 hours' community work.
The court heard that farmers around Flaxmere, where the men lived, had lost about 200 sheep over the five months before the men's capture in May.
- The Dominion Post
How many coffees do you have a day?Related story: Coffee as we know it at risk of dying