Editorial: 20,000 chickens will be an asset for Dunbarton
Dunbarton town officials should weigh the concerns of residents opposed to a plan to construct a high-tech poultry barn capable of housing 20,000 chickens, but they should respond to facts, not fear. When they do, they will find that the evidence is on landowner Tom Giovagnoli’s side.
Modern, well-run poultry operations, experts in many states say, do not smell or pollute water supplies. They can’t do so and survive, because the standards for cleanliness to prevent the spread of a disease that could wipe out the flock are high. John Porter, an agriculture specialist and professor at the UNH Coooperative Extension Service, and Tom Danko, a retired poultry specialist with the same agency, are among those who have visited the farm that provides the model for what would be Giovagnoli’s operation. Both said no noticeable odor was detectable beyond a few feet from the barn.
Fears that a farm operation that size would have a deleterious effect on local water supplies are unfounded. The farm would consume between 1,000 and 1,600 gallons per day. That sounds like a lot, but to put it in perspective, according to the EPA, the average American household consumes 320 gallons of water per day. The farm would consume far less water than if its 87 acres were divided into house lots. Agriculture and forestry keep open space open.
New Hampshire was once a major poultry producer, one large enough to supply a big share of New York City’s demand for chicken and eggs. Hubbard Farms of Walpole, then New England’s major poultry breeder and supplier of chicks, worked with farmers to design their facilities and contracted with them to buy their eggs. The poultry industry, in the 1930s and 1940s, was bigger than the state’s dairy industry. Then, starting in the 1950s, the poultry industry moved to America’s South, where farmers could raise, rather than import, feed.
Pete and Gerry’s Organics, a third-generation farm in Monroe, will supervise the creation of Giovagnoli’s 24,000-square-foot barn and inspect it regularly for cleanliness and other standards. Like the other organic egg farms the company contracts with, Giovagnoli’s operation would be automated. The hens are kept on an elevated floor to allow manure to drop through and be automatically scraped to a pit on one end of the barn twice a day. Feeding, watering, lighting, ventilation and egg collection are also automated, so little human labor is needed.
The barn is enormous: 44 feet wide and 588 feet long, but it will sit in the middle of Giovagnoli’s property, 1,200 feet from the nearest residential abutter. It won’t be visible to neighbors, and the trees that screen the farm from view also scrub the air of odors that are emitted. In studies conducted using vegetative buffers to minimize pollution from traditional farms, researchers found that emissions were cut by as much as half.
Giant operations that contain a million or more hens in cages dominate the poultry industry, but humane organic farms are increasing. The barns used to produce organic eggs have to be huge to permit chickens to act like chickens, to wander around, socialize and scratch for food. More and more consumers want to consume locally grown food. Giovagnoli’s farm will help meet that need and will be a community asset, not the nuisance its critics claim.