With plans on the near horizon of September 8 for the planning commission to recommend that impact studies be done before more poultry houses are built in the county, Cobb representative Ben Green - who opposes the studies as recommended - scheduled two informational meetings last Thursday at the North Central Telephone Cooperative meeting room.
Not exactly standing room only, but well-attended by both citizens and county officials, the meeting consisted of the same slide show presentation that was given Tuesday, July 8, at the Fairgrounds. The presentation was followed by a question and answer session.
“We produce breeding stock and sell that stock in virtually every country in the world that is not a third world country,” Green explained. “We sell breeding stock to Tyson, Pilgrims Pride, Cagle and other producers of broilers. They use our stock to breed broilers chicks to fill their own houses.”
Cobb would like to see 10 pullet farms with three houses each and 18 hen farms with two houses each.
The houses would be supplied one day old chicks from Cobb's Blairsville, Georgia hatchery.
The hatchery which Cobb proposes to build in Lafayette's industrial park would hatch about 100,000 chicks a day, four days a week. Instead of an incinerator, the hatchery would include a disposal tank - much like a septic tank - for shells and unhatched eggs. The waste will be shipped off and processed into byproducts for dog and cat food.
Biosecurity, Green explained, is not optional at a Cobb poultry house. Cobb's biosecurity policies, said Green, are much stricter than most state and federal regulations. So, too are many of their other guidelines, such as the distance a poultry house has to be from a neighbor's house, which is 500 feet where the air comes into the house and 750 feet from where the air comes out. According to Green, Tennessee has no such regulations; although many counties - including Macon - have instituted their own regulations.
“We know that if we follow the guidelines that we've set, we'll be good neighbors,” said Green. “We want to make sure there are no complaints. That's the best scenario for us.
Each hen farm, said Green will produce about 400 tons of poultry litter each year. Each pullet farm will produce about 250 tons of litter, yearly. But it won't smell as bad as broiler house litter, said Green, adding that a typical broiler house, such as the ones that are already here in the county, produce about 600 tons of litter each year.
Broiler litter, according to Green, gives off far more ammonia than the Cobb chicken litter produces, due to the difference in diets.
Broilers are fed lots of protein - often in the form of blood, bone, or feather meal; and as much of it as they will eat.
Cobb's chickens are all vegetarians and are fed no byproducts of any kind. They are kept on a strictly regulated diet, so they don't gain too much weight too fast. Health - not size and weight - are Cobb's main interests. The feed would come from a single grain mill in Park City, Kentucky.
“What if there is a problem with stench or environmental problems?” asked a member of the audience. “Is Cobb going to be liable for this?”
No, Green replied, Cobb isn't liable. Hopefully, though, Cobb won't go into contract with someone that will cause a problem. Cobb generally finds only about three out of ten applicants qualified to run a Cobb farm.
“We hope the farmers will come to us if they're having a problem, and ask us to help,” Green continued. “We try to step in long before the EPA steps in.”
Although Green repeated that Cobb had nothing to hide, he also said that he was opposed to environmental impact studies if they were going to be done before the building of poultry houses.
“If we're going to be told we can't build houses until there's an environmental impact study done, we'll probably move on,” he stated. “Because there are a lot of little communities that want us. If we feel unwanted, we don't want to be here.”
Green said, about the lawsuit that the state of Oklahoma brought against Cobb and other livestock operations for polluting the Illinois River Watershed, that Cobb was cooperating with the state to fulfill every question they had about the lawsuit. The suit names fourteen poultry producers, including Cobb's parent company, Tyson, and alleges violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Responsibility, Compensation and Liability Act, federal and state nuisance laws, and state environmental and administrative laws.
Green's report of water usage was not in line with water supply requirements. According to the pullet and hen house specifications given out at Cobb's July meeting, each house is required to have a water source that provides at least 15 gallons of water per minute, per house. A calculator tells us that amounts to 21,600 gallons of water per day; or 7,884,000 gallons per year.
However, Green said in answer to a question, on the hottest day of the year, a hen farm uses only about 2,500 gallons of water per day; a three-house pullet farms uses only about 1,000.
Concerned about the difference between reported usage and spec requirements, Lafayette council member Richard Bransford called Green the next week to find out the why.
Bransford was told by Green that the line sizing and flow requirements were to make sure that chickens on down the line from the first house wouldn't experience a drop in water pressure and go thirsty after being fed, which happens at the same time in all of the houses.
Jobs? In addition to the chicken house jobs, Cobb's presence will provide about a hundred of them, said Green; sixty in the hatchery and another 40 at a great-grandparent farm, if one is built here.
Those figures have changed since the July 8 meeting. Dave Juenger, Director of support services in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, reported that a hatchery may employ up to 30 Macon Countians, a great-grandparent farm may use up to 40, and the addition of a pedigree farm may hire an additional 105 to 130 local employees.
Cobb, which is owned by Tyson Foods, has opened an office on the Highway 52 Bypass, next door to Davis Electronics.