A man wandering around a Delmar, Md., poultry farm in a drunken stupor turned off the power to three chicken houses, causing the deaths of nearly 70,000 chickens, sheriff’s officials said.
The property owner who made the grisly discovery found the man, identified as Joshua D. Shelton, 21, of Delmar, Md., passed out on the floor of the power control shed, wearing only a T-shirt and boxer shorts.
“This subject was also lying in a pool of his own urine. A strong odor of alcohol was also coming from the subject,” Wicomico County sheriff’s Lt. Tim Robinson said in a press release.
The investigating deputy awakened the man.
“Shelton advised the last thing he remembered was being on the property after a nearby concert but did not know how he ended up in the shed. The deputy surmised that in his intoxicated state, Shelton turned off the circuit breakers that controlled the electricity to the chicken houses,” Robinson said.
Shelton was arrested and booked into jail on charges of second-degree burglary, trespass and malicious destruction of property.
The property owner discovered the dead chickens Saturday morning. He told investigators that without power, the chickens will begin to die within 15 minutes. The birds, which were due to be delivered to a local processing plant the following day, were valued at $20,000.
Allen Farms, which was going to process the birds, estimated its loss at $220,000, said sheriff's Chief Deputy Gary Baker.
Shelton had been at the owner's property the previous evening with a group of people that included the owner’s daughter, Baker said.
“The daughter thought he left, but instead he wandered into the shed where all the power controls and breakers were and turned it off,” Baker told NBC News on Tuesday.
"Quite frankly, he was probably in a condition where he really didn’t know what he was doing,” Baker said.
"The theory is that he may have been in there looking for a light switch," Robinson told DelmarvaNow.com.
Baker said he’s heard of flocks of chickens dying due to natural occurrences such as drought and heat waves, "but never anything like this manmade that we can remember.”
Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., a local trade group, said he was surprised by news of the poultry caper.
"I have never heard of a drunkard going in and killing chickens," he told DelmarvaNow.com. "This is a new one on me, and it's unfortunate that it occurred."