Barry, Newton and McDonald counties of SW Missouri have become the permanent homes of several poultry production complexes known as confined animal feeding operations. Tysons and Georges are the most visible in Barry county and the last count I heard, there are over eight hundred poultry farms with four to eight chicken houses per farm. When I worked with the United States Department of Agriculture NRCS, as a Soil Technician for six years, we became a full service educational and poultry planning county. There are many problems with raising confined animals and one problem is the manure or “litter” management and the other major problem was how to properly dispose of the dead chickens that unfortunately will die from many causes in the process. When I first started my job there were heaps and piles of dead chickens on any given poultry farm and usually on the “back forty” of the farm where they couldn’t be caught and where none of the neighbors would complain about the situation. When several neighboring farmers were rolling up dead chickens in their hay bales because coyotes or neighbor dogs would drag them into the hay field, that’s when the USDA came into action to enforce the new state disposal laws. I personally got a phone call on this issue when a landowner near Monett Missouri called to complain about the dead chickens being caught up in his Vermeer round baler while baling switchgrass!
Many of the poultry farms that were “grandfathered” in did not have the money to build a dead bird composter that was being enforced by the state in order to comply with the new laws. Our agency arranged with those landowners to cost share the expense . New poultry farmers had to incorporate the expense of a composter in order to sign up with Tyson or Georges. This enforcement action came with many trial and error experimentation of the composters on test farms and they finally came up with a good plan that would work. A dead bird composter is an open air building made of treated lumber and a pitched metal roof. This building has four to six stalls that are full of “hot” or fresh chicken manure. When the poultry farmer needs to dispose of a few dead birds daily, they place the chickens in the manure and let them basically cook in the process. The mix of manure and chickens has to be turned with the bucket on a tractor or bobcat skidder and moved from stall to stall until it is a finished product equal of that to just chicken litter ready to be spread on the land as fertilizer. The poultry composters are built large enough to accommodate the amount of chickens that will be grown out on the farm. One poultry farmer that has eight chicken houses that are 40 feet wide by 400 feet long will grow out twenty thousand birds per house every six weeks. When you crunch the numbers, one producer can crank out one hundred sixty thousand birds every six weeks then seven flocks per year….that is a lot of chicken! Before the invention of these composters, my first job was with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and we would go to the poultry farms we knew of having dead bird piles. These farms were a very convenient place to view some of Americas finest predators for our Christmas Bird Count! We could depend on Eagles, Hawks, and Owls all dining on the gross piles of dead birds. And yes, there was a problem with these magnificent birds and their dining habits….it was causing them to perish from botulism toxins. So thanks to many individuals with the local County Extension Offices, Missouri University, Department of Natural Resources and the United States Department of Agriculture we can continue to see these magnificent birds soar and the neighbors to these poultry farms not having the issues of a large scale poultry farm that feeds America continuously at a reasonable cost!