Macon County Chronicle

What Comes First; The Chicken or the Chicken Houses?

For a $1.1 million investment, Macon County farmers may be the proud owners of two hen houses and  one, ten-year contract with Cobb-Vantress, world-class breeders of broilers and laying hens. For $900,000, one can build a pullet farm. Contracts are renewable, after the first ten years, on a five-year basis.

On Tuesday, July 8, several hundred people attended an informational meeting where they were provided with steak suppers and general information by representatives from Cobb-Vantress, whose home offices are located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Why Macon County? Because, said Dave Juenger, Director of Support Services, the company did a nine month demographic study all over the United States, and Macon County fits Cobb’s business plan now, and into the future.

“One and a quarter out of every three chickens in the world is Cobb,” said James Young, Vice President of Operations. “When you leave here, I want you to understand what Cobb is all about. We’re pretty different than what happens in an integrated poultry operation.”

The chickens that Cobb would provide to qualified farmers in Macon County aren’t going to be raised for food; but would be the grandparent stock of broilers who are confined in the integrated poultry operations referred to by Young, which raise chickens specifically for food and eggs. Cobb’s vision, said Young, is to make protein healthy and affordable for the world, through innovative research and technology.

From great-grandparent stock, that comes from 300-bird flocks of pedigree breeders, one-day-old chicks will be delivered to the pullet farms. They will live there, in controlled light and on a diet specially prepared for and delivered to them by Cobb, for 21 weeks. Hens and roosters will be kept separately in the 40’x440’ houses.

At 21 weeks, both hens and roosters will be delivered to the hen houses, where they’ll spend their days eating and manuring and laying eggs for further breeding stock. The chickens will live there, co-mingled, until they’re 60 weeks old and weighing in at 9.25 pounds, before being turned into healthy, affordable protein for the world at a processing house. But before that, the eggs they lay will return to produce the grandparents for Cobb’s research facilities.

The poultry houses are the first step of Cobb’s business plan for the county.

“We do not do any genetic engineering, or use any genetically modified organisms,” said Young. “only natural selection through breeding.”

What’s the pay-off for the county’s farmers?

Money for one thing. Dollar estimates for monthly payments were quoted at July 8’s meeting, but by the next week, Cobb representatives were unable to give payment-per-house estimates.

“You’re not going to get rich doing this,” cautioned Young. “It’s a lot of really hard work, and a good supplement to your regular income, whether you’re a farmer or work in town. But nobody should think they’re going to get rich doing this.” Young stressed that Cobb is looking for owner-operators, saying that nobody is going to do as good a job as those who take out a loan to build the poultry houses.

Chicken poop, for another thing, and that’s big business. Each two hen houses will produce some 400 tons of manure per year, said Young. He went on to say that some of Cobb’s Monticello, Kentucky farmers make more money from the manure than from the eggs; for which Cobb will pay farmers $0.0031 each, according to the contract that was given out after the meeting.

Cobb would like to see pullet farms located within 20 miles of Lafayette, and hen farms within 50 miles.

Step two, which will be developed along with the poultry houses, calls for a hatchery to be built in the county, to populate the contract growers’ houses with chicks.

“They’ll have to have some poultry houses here to need a hatchery,” said County Agent Steve Walker, “so all things will be built at the same time.

According to County Mayor Shelvy Linville, Cobb representatives have been considering the 10 acre tract that’s available in the industrial park for their offices and a possible hatchery.

Cobb’s eventual and future plans for Macon County – step three – include a great-grandparent farm, and a pedigree farm.
The great-grandparent farm will deliver chicks to the contract farmers; the pedigree farm is where chickens are kept in 300 bird flocks, studied, weighed, x-rayed, and bred for specific characteristics. That eventual step, if it happens, could mean 175–200 jobs in the area, in addition to the contract farmers.

A hatchery, according to Juenger, may employ up to 30 Macon Countians; while the great-grandparent (or company operated) farm may use up to 40 local employees. The addition of a pedigree farm may make up the additional 105 to 130 employees
Requirements for operating a Cobb-Vantress pullet or hen farm are strict, said Ben Green, warning that not all farmers will qualify. Green is the manager of Cobb’s Monticello complex.

“Biosecurity at this level is non-negotiable,” said Young, explaining that Cobb would like to put a feed mill in the county to serve area farms. Cobb chickens are fed only Cobb-manufactured food. Grain for the feed mill would be, ideally, grown here in the county by local farmers.

Green explained that the contractual biosecurity agreement included showering and changing clothes each and every time a farmer entered one of the poultry houses. A shower room, including a washing machine and dryer, will be included in the design of each house; the shower room will include the only entry into the poultry house.

Further biosecurity agreements, according to the contract, include that the farmer not own any avian species or allow any avian species on the farm. Avian, according to the dictionary, simply means bird. No other avian livestock is allowed; neither is the feeding of wild birds.

What about the wild turkeys? Several interested area farmers have asked County Agent Steve Walker that question, stating that they like to turkey hunt.

“We  have contract growers that are also turkey hunters,” said Juenger. “They have to manage their clothing and equipment according to the Biosecurity Policy. We can’t do anything about the wild birds, but with proper farm management, farmers can discourage birds from nesting on the chicken houses.

The Biosecurity Policy was not included with the contract or available at the meeting for examination, as it is region and site specific. The policy becomes available to contract growers when Cobb representatives begin looking at specific farms.

The farmer, according to the contract, agrees to abide by any changes to the Biosecurity Policy that are implemented by Cobb.

Additional expenses for the poultry house owner would include:

•water; at least 15 gallons per minute per house; or 21,600 gallons per day per house; with a secondary water source of the same qualifications maintained for emergencies.

•propane; $10,000 worth – at today’s prices – per house, per winter month; less in the summer.

•all equipment, buildings, electricity, and other utilities, as required by Cobb.

•roads and road maintenance, fences and bridges, as required by Cobb.

•the removal of dead birds and litter, in accordance with all applicable federal, state, and local statutes, rules, regulations, and ordinances; including but not limited to those governing environmental and poultry litter management and dead bird removal.
According to Walker, there are currently 24 poultry houses in Macon County, operated by four growers, all containing commercial broilers.

Walker said about 70 information packets were given out at the July 8 meeting, and several very interested farmers have since talked to him about Cobb’s proposal.

Further information about Cobb’s proposal to local farmers may be had by calling Steve Walker at 666-3341.