This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rensselaer Adventures meets Chicken Adventures

Meetings of the Jasper County Planning and Development Board and the Jasper County Board of Zoning Appeals are often full of boring cases of little interest to the general public. However, sometimes there are cases that make sitting through all the boring meetings worthwhile. Monday night's meetings were examples of these special meetings.

First up was Rose Acre Farms (RAF) with a request for a zoning change from the Planning and Development Board. It wanted a HC (Highway Commercial) zone changed to an A3 (special agriculture) zone so it could build an egg farm on SR 14 just to the east of the SR-14/I-65 interchange. You should recognize that as the Fair Oaks Farms (FOF) interchange, and, yes, the egg farm would become part of the FOF's set of attractions. Who knows, it might even be called the Chicken Adventure. Or maybe the Egg Adventure.

The farm being proposed is quite small for an egg farm. It would have only 320,000 chickens, 80,000 in each of four buildings. Each of the buildings would be 45 feet wide and about 520 feet long. There would be no cages, unlike the other egg factories that Rose Acre operates. The eggs would be marketed as organic and there is a set of requirements, which keeps changing, as to what makes an egg organic. One requirement is that the hens cannot be caged. So this facility would be something different for RAF.  Their people have spent time touring other facilities both here and in Europe and have applied for eleven patents for their design.

The buildings will have two floors and chickens will be on each. There will be belts that move the chicken droppings to a special area and every two days they will be collected and removed. The smell associated with a chicken farm comes from decaying droppings, which cause ammonia. If the droppings are wet, more ammonia is produced, so the facility will be designed with an airflow system that will dry droppings.

Like the Dairy Adventure and the Pig Adventure, this facility will have an observation area from which people will be able to watch the chickens in two of the barns. There will be nesting areas or nesting boxes and hens almost always will lay their eggs there so they can be automatically collected by some sort of conveyor system. Some hens will misbehave and lay their eggs where they should not be laid, and I believe those eggs will be discarded.

The hens will have an exercise yard between the buildings and they will be put out into that yard each day. The yard will have two square feet per chicken. Giving hens outside time is another requirement that producers must follow to have the eggs labeled organic.

Below is a picture taken from across the room of the plans for the site. The proposed barns are just south of the black area of trees at the top of the picture. In addition to the barns, there will be a building 100 feet by 200 feet in which eggs will be washed and put into a cooler. US regulations require that eggs be washed. In Europe they are usually sold unwashed. The water from egg washing will be piped to the smaller white square at the bottom, which will be the location of a water storage area. This water will be used to irrigate a field. Rain runoff will be piped to the larger white square, which shows the location of a proposed retention pond.

RAF does not know how many people the operation will employ but thinks it will be between 15 and 25. The reason that they do not know is that this is a completely new design. One of the owners noted that when RAF began producing eggs back in the 1960s, none of the chickens were in cages. Then someone found that caged birds were more profitable, so birds were caged, beginning with about three birds per cage and gradually increasing to ten. Now consumers want eggs from uncaged birds so grocery stores are putting pressure on egg producers to change production methods again. Eggs from uncaged birds with access to the outdoors will cost more because they are more expensive to produce.

One person in attendance noted that her family owned wooded area to the east of the proposed egg farm. She said that they thought this area might someday be developed as subdivision, but locating the egg farm next door would make that development unrealistic. She was completely opposed to the project. There were questions about odor and biosecurity. Because the birds will be outside some of the time, they could be exposed to diseases carried by wild birds. About five percent of wild ducks carry a disease that can spread to chickens, so there will be no permanent ponds on the site.  One of the board members asked why they were building a completely new facility rather than showing how eggs are currently produced. I think the answer to that is obvious, but we should applaud the project for exploring alternatives ways of producing eggs. FOF has, in the interests of impressing tourists, pushed technologies that improve the treatment of animals and reduce environmental side effects.

The Planning and Development Board does not have final say but only makes recommendations to the County Commissioners. They recommended that the Commissioners approve changing the zoning from HC to A3.

The proposed farm also needed a variance and that is something that the BZA gives. After the Planning and Development Board meeting concluded (more about what else it did later), the BZA met. The County Unified Development Ordinance says that confided feeding operations (CFOs) must be 1300 feet from adjoining property and this project did not meet that requirement. It was only 600 feet from SR16, for example. However, before RAFs attorney could present its case for a variance, someone noticed that the legal notice of the hearing that appeared in the newspaper did not contain the correct dates. Hence, the hearing for the variance could not proceed. It will probably be on the agenda for the June meeting.

The project must meet some other regulatory requirements. However, many people regard the Fair Oaks Farms as a major economic asset to our our county. With time and effort, the developers should be able to get approval for the project.

The two meetings lasted over two and a half hours. I will write about what else happened in another post.

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