A Delmar man faces several criminal charges after his alleged actions caused the deaths of almost 70,000 chickens.
Joshua D. Shelton, 21, was charged in connection with the incident. Police said Shelton reportedly shut off the power to three chickenhouses.
“The theory is that he may have been in there looking for a light switch,” said Lt. Tim Robinson of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office.
The value of these chickens, belonging to Mark Shockley of the 32000 block of E. Line Road in Delmar, is reported to be about $20,000, and damage also includes an unknown amount of cleanup costs, according to charging documents. After the incident, only about 100 chickens remained, charging documents state.
Shockley found the chickens Saturday morning and the flock, which had been deprived of food, water and cooling fans, was supposed to be delivered on Sunday.
“Shockley advised that without power, the chickens will begin to die within 15 minutes,” according to charging documents.
Shelton was found lying in the power control shed by the circuit breakers, wearing a T-shirt and boxers, the sheriff’s office reported.
He smelled of alcohol and did not know how he got into the shed or remember touching the breakers, according to charging documents.
Shelton is charged with second-and fourth-degree burglary, malicious destruction of property, trespassing on private property and animal cruelty.
Shelton was at a gathering outside the home with a few people — including Shockley’s daughter — according to charging documents. After his daughter told everyone to go home, she thought Shelton had left.
“Instead of leaving, he wandered into the shed where the power controls were and ended up turning off the power,” Robinson said.
Crimes involving the death of a mass number of chickens are not common, Robinson said.
“This is a first for me in my almost 20-year career,” Robinson said.
An incident like this is also surprising to Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.
“I have never heard of a drunkard going in and killing chickens,” he said. “This is a new one on me, and it’s unfortunate that it occurred.”
Satterfield said occasionally there will be reminders in a newsletter that goes out about protecting chickens from intrusion, but the problem is more likely to be people bringing in bacteria, or potentially animal rights people.
He recommended growers install locks and gates, lock the doors on chickenhouses and put up “No trespassing” or “No admittance” signs.
While Satterfield wasn’t familiar with this particular case, he said it takes chickens about an average of seven weeks to grow, and a farmer may get five or five-and-a-half flocks per year.
“If he’s losing the entire flock, that would be about one-fifth of his income for the year,” Satterfield said.