Friday, November 22, 2013

Arghhh, Chicken By-Products

When most people think of chicken by-products, they probably think of the waste from processing a chicken from live bird into ready to cook.

That would be the same kind of by-products I once saw slopped all over the street and one unfortunately parked vehicle when a truckload leaving a local processing plant braked too suddenly in town and didn't have its load well covered.

Lately I'm distressed by a different kind of by-product. The kind the live birds produce.

If you live in a rural part of a poultry producing area such as I do, chances are good you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you even drive in those areas, there are days when you know what I'm talking about.

For lack of a better term, it's chicken poop.

Not just a little bit of chicken poop, but a lifetime of poop from thousands of birds who spend their existence in an enclosed barn eating a feed that makes them grow faster. All they do is eat, drink and poop, and by the time their short lives are over and it's time to clean the barn and make way for the next round of birds, there's quite an aroma.

It's not the ammonia smell my own chicken house gets when it needs cleaning -- I've got way more ventilation and my birds are technically free ranging. It's aged and intense and hangs over the chicken houses like a yellow fog of toxic fumes.

I feel sorry for the people who unwittingly move into homes near where these barns are located, and even more so for those who have the barns erected near their homes, since as an agricultural use it's not regulated very closely by the county.

Thankfully, I'm not in either of those positions, although I guess like the farmers who raise the birds, you probably get accustomed to the smell after a while.

Near me they raise tobacco. I'm surrounded by acre after acre of green growing tobacco in Carolina red fields of turned soil. It isn't hard to live around. There are periods of intense traffic during the planting and harvest, but it's no inconvenience. And the old bulk barns where it was once cured are picturesque touches in the landscape. The men who work the land are my neighbors and friends.

There are, however, several uncultivated fields down the short, dead end road where I live. Periodically, the landowner cuts a field of hay, but most of the land is overgrown in brush and weeds that turn into a real challenge during allergy season. Sometimes he musters up the time to cut those fields with a bush hog, littering the road with tossed weeds and sticks and eliminating the stands of blackberries and goldenrods.

This year, however, the two nearby field,s which were aging peach orchards when I moved in, had been overgrown lots for two summers. A couple of weeks ago, he had them cut. Well, I will miss the blackberries, but otherwise, it was an improvement.

Then despite the fact that the land is not grazed or cultivated in any way, and that there are three homes right next to the tiny plots, he decided it would be a good place for some of that aforementioned chicken by-product.

I noticed I heard a truck running all evening and at one point saw a cloud of dust, but thought nothing of it until I got home from church that night. When we got out of the car, the smell was so thick it made my eyes water.

When I walked the dogs the next morning I found the source of the odor. And not only were the two small fields coated in manure, feathers, and if past experience is any indicator, bits of long dead birds, so was the road. Some of dogs I was walking thought those smelly bits in the road would be tasty chews. We wound up doing a short sprint through the smelly terrain.

And a quick retreat back into the house.

I understand spreading chicken manure. It's a natural fertilizer, although when it hasn't been composted it can actually provide a bad ratio of nutrients for healthy plant growth. Farmers may find it a cheaper alternative to commercial fertilizer and those who grow the birds need to get rid of it.

Let me rephrase that. I understand spreading it on agricultural land. Not on a small, uncultivated piece of property between two houses, or on its twin across the road. Nothing grows there except for weeds anyway, so what, exactly, is being fertilized? Can I look for a bumper crop of blackberries next summer?

The smell is somewhat dissipated now, so it's not quite so bad, at least if the wind is blowing. At the same time I anticipate having to argue with a certain dog every time we pass the fields until we get a good rain.

It's not like I'm going to say anything to the landowner, but I just wish I understood why he did it. And for a few days I'm reminded to be thankful that they can only spread the stuff a couple of times a year, and I don't live near where it is generated.

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