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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!
As I’m sitting here in Panera Bread, I’m wondering if all the folks visiting my tourist town here in Branson, realize that the food they are waiting in line for, came to them from hard working farmers. Many of the old folks that just unloaded from the two buses are busy thinking about seeing the next country show or wondering what time breakfast will be after a good nights sleep down at the Comfort Inn. Many folks have become very far removed from our Agricultural roots and they don’t realize all the steps it takes to get food from the “gate to the plate.” All they have to do is go to Wal Mart or to Panera Bread and woolah…a plate or shopping cart full of wholesome goodness! I believe that all Americans feel very confident that their food is healthy, has been inspected and is safe for their consumption. Because American farmers take pride in what they produce and because the USDA was borne to keep our food supply at a healthy and plentiful state, we as consumers, basically just “Drive Up” and get “Served.” I feel like some of my fellow neighbors might be spoiled and take their food supply for granted. What if all the topsoil was to wash away, or we had several years of a drought or like in the Northwest, having an unexpected pile of snow during October that killed thousands of cattle. What would my fellow consumers think if they had to pay $20.00 for a gallon of milk? Many folks wonder why we have the USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service….why do we pay taxes to support those government agencies? Why do we have to pay for crop insurance, why do we have to pay for District Conservationists that educate farmers on soil conservation? Many civilizations in the past, have literally blown away, because of drought, soil erosion and disease. I would hate to live in any other country right now because they may not have the resources or inclination to produce a healthy and abundant food supply. I am very glad to be an American and hope for the sake of our country that we can continue to take our food supply for granted….we just need to educate those that don’t understand the hard work and love for the job. One more thing, Branson will be home to thousands of Veterans that will be here during the Veterans Day Celebrations! We thank all of them for their service and dedication, for without them we may not have the freedom to just “Drive Up” and be “Served” our Plentiful Food!!!
Most people don’t know that America’s most valuable and less recognized resource is right in the middle of our country. Now you might think that this valuable asset is our Oil….No, it’s our Soil! Without our soil and the farmers or “stewards of the land,” we could not feed the world like we do. It just makes me cringe every time I see a new mall, bank or subdivision being built on some of our prime real estate that grows our food. The way the Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield metropolitian areas have been sprawling out, I wonder where we will cultivate crops in the next one hundred years. It must have been a beautiful sight to see when Henry Rowe Schoolcraft traveled and wrote about the “Tall grass Prairie” that once graced our country so many years ago. As a past United States Department of Agriculture employee I saw personally the importance of the educational programs and the cost sharing venues our government has invested into. The USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service is the office I worked out of as a Soil Technician. We were responsible for “spot checking” areas of “highly erodible land” in the county I was assigned to. The Conservation Reserve System was in place which paid the landowners who participated and qualified not to cultivate any land where the soil was highly erodible. Farmers sixty to one hundred years ago had many acres of corn, soybeans or wheat planted as far as the eye could see and this scenario caused topsoil by the tons, to be washed downstream in Southwest Missouri. The USDA was created because of the disaster from the dust bowl days. With the mix of erodible soil and the huge rainfall amounts that we typically get in Missouri, something had to be done. There were many programs we had to implement, one in particular was the riparian or creek bed stabilization. We would assist the Missouri Department of Conservation and cut cedar trees to be anchored into bare soil banks along the creek. We would then plant native willow trees along the creek bank to assist in the soil stabilization. The county Soil Conservation office would pick up the extra expense of building fences to keep the livestock out of the creek. We also cost shared on dairy lagoons for farmers that just hosed down the dairy barn out the back door and typically these structures were near the head waters of some creek or watershed. The United States Department of Agriculture is a very important government installment and has kept the promise of education and installing the wise use of our natural resources….. our Soil and Water.
This blog has been quiet for a while, once again. There are a few reasons for this. One is that I have been burdened with completing my upcoming book, due out in a few months. A second reason is for the past two months I took a job to make some extra cash. That accomplished, I quit in hopes of sustaining a few other projects and working as much as possible on my Philip K. Dick project and some articles related to Taiwanese history. Freed from my temporary status as wage slave, I can return with full energies to educating myself.
I left off with Aldo Leopold’s writings from the 1910s and 1920s. Now we come to his writings of the 1930s. It is during this period that Leopold settled permanently in Wisconsin and began teaching at the University of Wisconsin, but before that he worked briefly in some of…
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