The following letter to the editor was published in the January 7, 2016 edition of the Fairfield Ledger.

Report on Organic Chicken House in County
by Diane Rosenberg
Executive Director, Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. 

A certified organic farmer in Jefferson County is planning an independent 16,000-head organic chicken house to sell eggs to a well-known national organic cooperative.

This type of facility is relatively new to Jefferson County. When concerned neighbors contacted JFAN about potential impacts, we dedicated a fair amount of time for research. JFAN doesn’t endorse or oppose this operation; rather we are providing educational information for the community to consider.

The chicken house isn’t a CAFO, and the farmer will independently own his chickens. There is no confinement pit with liquid manure; rather chickens produce dry litter. The hens will have outdoor access to ample pasture, and no battery cages are involved. The cooperative maintains higher animal welfare standards than organic requirements, and the farmer plans to exceed cooperative requirements.

The building would be designed to minimize odor and noise. At a recent visit to a similarly designed building with 25% more chickens, neighbors and I detected no manure smell even when standing in front of an operating fan.

The farmer would feed organic grains from his farming operation then fertilize fields with the organic manure, creating a closed, sustainable system.

To address concerns about Avian Flu, JFAN spoke with the Iowa Department of Agriculture (IDALS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Iowa State University. IDALS reports 77 Iowa poultry facilities with 31.5 million birds were affected in 2015. Not all birds were sick when euthanized. When a few birds were infected, entire flocks were destroyed to prevent the virus from colonizing and spreading further.

No humans were sickened with the Avian Flu, and the flu didn’t adapt to humans or other animals. In Asia, the Asian Flu infected some people that lived with their chickens and had prolonged exposure. However, the Asian Flu is a different strain than Avian Flu.

Medical experts believe the droppings from wild waterfowl transmitted the Avian Flu during migration. The virus doesn’t sicken waterfowl but can adapt to domestic poultry. They believe the virus was tracked into chicken operations, incubating over a period of time before adapting to commercial flocks.

The CDC considers the risk of human transmission low. The virus is not hearty; over 200 EPA-approved disinfectants can inactivate the flu, including heat.

Biosecurity was strengthened in poultry facilities to prevent flu infections. Industrial chicken operations containing 100,000 – 1 million or more chickens employ more staff therefore have greater risk of spreading the flu from biosecurity lapses.

The organic chicken house in Jefferson County is a smaller family-run operation, and the birds will have contact with fewer humans. The cooperative requires extensive biosecurity measures. The Avian Flu affected none of its 100 organic egg producers last year.

Although 16,000 chickens isn’t large by industry standards, it is still large enough for neighbors to legitimately question its impact. While it appears to be a humane and environmentally better alternative to CAFOs, an evaluation of this facility should be made in the light of objective information.

Visit our website for a more extensive article on the chicken house and Avian Flu.

Click here for the extended article on the chicken house and Avian Flu.