CLARENDON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - A wake of buzzards circled over the chicken barns at Coker Farms near Alcolu in search of remains left from thousands of dead chickens below.
Late last month, someone broke into the eight barns, cut off ventilators, boosted the temperature controls, and wiped out 320,000 chickens, according to Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible. PETA wants the case to be tried under the South Carolina Farm Animal Crop Operation and Research Facilities Protection Act.
"We've got burglar alarms and all that and, if the temperature drops and doesn't cut off, we've got someone in North Carolina that calls us and tells us check the chicken house," farm owner W.L. Coker said.
Coker's operation is one of the largest in the county and the hardest hit in what investigators think is a deliberate attack on farms producing birds for the giant national poultry company called Pilgrim's Pride.
According to their website, the company contracts with 4,000 suppliers in the United States and Mexico. The company issued a statement saying the attacks showed a "blatant disregard for the welfare of the chickens and the livelihood of the family farmers involved."
Other farms in Clarendon, Sumter, and possibly Lee counties have experience smaller losses.
Coker says the damage in the barns could cost more than $125,000, which is not covered by insurance. Coker also said the poultry company will re-stock the barns within the next few weeks and get him back in business.
Meanwhile, the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office and SLED are among those who continue to look into what exactly happened and who is responsible.
If the case is tried under the state law, PETA says this is the first time it has supported a case involving animals raised for consumption.