CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) — Revenge may be the motive for the recent killings of more than 300,000 commercial chickens in South Carolina worth US$1.7 million, authorities said.
Birds have been found dead of unnatural causes in 16 chicken barns at six farms that raise chickens for Pilgrims Pride Corp., which laid off 60 people right before the killings began, said Clarendon County sheriff Randy Garrett.
The company has a processing plant in Sumter, South Carolina.
About 325,000 chickens have been found dead at the farms since mid-February, Garrett said. One farmer, W.L. Coker, lost 160,000 birds in eight barns, he said.
Authorities are searching for killers with a deep working knowledge of raising chickens, Garrett said.
He said he believed the deaths of the chickens are related to the layoffs.
Vandals bypassed alarms systems and raised or lowered temperature in the chicken houses, killing them, Garrett said.
“Depending on the age of the birds, they knew whether to jack the heat up or jack the heat off,” Garrett said.
Young birds need more heat and older ones need less, he said.
“They had all that knowledge of the farms and how many weeks growth the chickens were,” Garrett said.
He said his office has contacted U.S. Department of Agriculture authorities and state police.
Pilgrim’s Pride said in a statement that it was co-operating with authorities.
“These unfortunate, yet apparently deliberate acts show a blatant disregard for the welfare of the chickens and the livelihood of the family farmers involved,” the statement said.
State officials overseeing South Carolina’s agriculture industry also condemned the acts.
“Farming presents its own unique challenges without something like this happening,” South Carolina agriculture commissioner Hugh Weathers said.