South Carolina authorities have a bizarre crime on their hands—involving the deaths of more than 300,000 chickens. The culprit or culprits broke into 16 commercial farms across the state over the last two weeks and killed the birds by manipulating the temperature in the chicken houses, reports the Charlotte Observer. All of the farms supplied birds to Pilgrim's Pride, a massive poultry producer, and a local sheriff thinks the killings are related to recent layoffs by the company, reports Reuters. Whoever did it had knowledge about how the chicken farms operate, says Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett; the suspect or suspects bypassed the alarm systems in order to change the chicken house temperatures. Young chicks need the temperature to be around 95 to 100 degrees; as they get older, that temperature drops to 65 to 70 degrees, the sheriff says.
"Depending on the age of the birds, they knew whether to jack the heat up" or turn it down, he says. "They had all that knowledge of the farms and how many weeks growth the chickens were." The alarm systems are set to control the temperature and ventilation and notify farmers via phone if the buildings get too hot or cold, but without the system working, chickens can die in as little as an hour, the sheriff says. "They roasted them," says one farmer who lost 200,000 chickens. "I hate for them to be destroyed like that." The employee who discovered the deaths first noticed steam coming from the chicken houses, and found the inside temperature at 115 degrees. "The heat could have knocked you down," he says. "It takes dirty people to do something like that." Pilgrim's Pride laid off 60 people prior to the killings, which have caused an estimated $1.7 million in losses to the farmers. (Click for another bizarre chicken-related crime.)