By Shaun Milne
A BREAK-IN at a giant poultry farm is being probed by police after 136,000 chickens suffocated to death.
The birds perished after a vital air supply to their coops was cut-off at Beechgrove Farm in Balerno on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Sickened animal crime investigators said the chickens would have suffered a “slow death filled with pain and fear”.
Lothian and Borders Police have now launched an inquiry into the deaths in a bid to track down whoever was behind the incident.
The farm belongs to meat producing giants Vion Food Group who own the likes of Grampian Country Foods and Halls of Broxburn – and was targeted overnight on August 17 and 18.
Details have only just emerged while officials carried out their own calculation of the damage cost estimated to be around £400,000.
It was thought the break in at the sprawling site – which does have security measures in place – resulted in break-ins at a dozen units.
Details of exactly what kind of breeds are kept there and the numbers are a closely guarded secret so as not to attract this kind of attack.
However sources confirmed that some considerable effort would have gone into the raid which saw environmental controls, needed to ensure the welfare of such large numbers of fowl living in close quarters with each other, tampered with.
This resulted in the air flows being cut off to the huge shed buildings and the birds left to die.
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said whoever was behind the incident showed no consideration for the birds.
He said: “This was either an extremely callous or thoughtless act that has resulted in thousands of animals suffering what must have been a very uncomfortable and slow death filled with pain and fear.
“Whoever is responsible for this clearly showed no consideration for the welfare of the birds. Anyone with information should contact the police.”
Rob Smith, Group Communications Controller, said: “Nothing was stolen but the action of the culprits resulted in a high number of bird fatalities.
“A police investigation is under way and we are co-operating with their inquiries.”
He would not be drawn on who was responsible.
Ross Minett, campaigns director with Advocates for Animals, said whoever did it had left thousands of birds to suffer.
He said: “This is a dreadful incident and the scale of suffering is simply immense.
“It’s hard to imagine why anyone would deliberately cause tens of thousands of birds to die an awful death from overheating and asphyxiation.
“Unfortunately intensively grown chickens crowded together in huge factories are terribly vulnerable to any interference with environmental controls whether deliberately of by accident.”
Lothian and Borders confirmed they were investigating.
A spokesman said: “A total of 12 sheds containing live chickens were broken into and the environmental controls tampered with causing the deaths of approximately 136,000 chickens.
“Police are appealing for anyone who has any information that can assist their inquiries to come forward.”