Authorities in South Carolina on Wednesday arrested a former contract grower for Pilgrim's Pride who they believe is involved in the burglary of more than 16 chicken farms and death of more than 300,000 birds.
The chickens were killed after heating systems in their barns were tampered with, The Herald of South Carolina reports. Some of the birds were too hot, while others were too cold. Alarm systems that notify farmers of issues within the heating systems were disabled, the report said.
The targeted farms were owned by farmers who are contract growers for Pilgrim's Pride.
The man arrested for the crime, James Lowery, 44, recently raised chickens for Pilgrim's Pride at a farm in Sumter County, a report from Fox Carolina said. Lowery faces a multiple counts of burglary and property damage violations in addition to the federal charge of tampering with food, a crime that can carry up to 20 years in prison per count.
Authorities believe Lowery's contract termination may be the motive behind the killings.
"He hurt farmers in this county who work every day to feed their families that had no ax to grind with him, but yet he punished them as well," USA Today quoted Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett, who estimated the total loss at around $1.7 million.
"Mr. Lowery went on quite the crime spree, with no thought to anyone else but himself," Garrett said, according to local paper Manning Live.