W.Va. town gets creative with manure Program goal is to get chicken 'litter' far away from region

'Try new things'

Toll-free hot line links poultry growers with farmers, others

Waste products

October 27, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

MOOREFIELD, W.Va. -- When it comes to hawking chicken manure, Maryland could learn a few things from folks in this tiny, rural community that prides itself as the "Poultry Capital" of the state.

With an eye toward protecting its waterways, the Potomac Interagency Water Quality Office in Moorefield has come up with a plan to get chicken manure as far away from the poultry-producing region as possible.

The concentration of chicken manure is a prime suspect in the Pfiesteria outbreak that has killed fish in Maryland waters flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.

"Be innovative," Andrew Walker, an environmental specialist with the West Virginia Soil Conservation Agency, suggests to Marylanders wrestling with the issue. "Try new things. Not long ago if you suggested putting chicken manure on golf courses, people would laugh at you. Now it's done routinely. Every day it seems like we come up with new ideas for poultry litter that we wouldn't have thought about a week ago."

The 15-month-old West Virginia program centers on a toll-free hot line that links poultry growers with farmers and others who can make use of the waste a big growing operation generates.

"It's amazing how many things you can do with chicken manure when you put your mind to it," Walker said.

The Water Quality Office has had its hand in converting chicken manure into fertilizer for cornfields, a protein supplement for cattle feed and a "chocolatey smelling compost" for gardens.

The office has come up with economically viable ways of transporting manure to buyers as far away as Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa -- something agriculture officials in Maryland have said is impossible.

State agriculture officials have told an 11-member Maryland panel investigating the Pfiesteria problem that manure is so bulky it can be hauled only 50 miles from its source economically.

Walker disagrees.

"The rule of thumb is that you can only haul manure used for fertilizer 100 miles," he said. "It's 300 miles for manure used in livestock."

He said that "if you arrange for the trucks to haul back another product, you can probably double that range."

Tom Basden, an extension specialist with West Virginia University who also helps run the Water Quality Office, said Maryland's poultry industry is different from West Virginia's.

"We can only produce enough grain in this region to supply the needs of the chicken growers for two weeks out of the year," Basden said. "Companies here import grain from the Midwest."

He said the office coordinates things so that when a truck brings in a load of grain, it goes out with a load of manure.

"That cuts costs a whole lot," Walker said.

Walker estimated that 30 percent to 60 percent of the 140,000 tons of manure generated by regional chicken houses each year is being hauled away.

The approximately 850 chicken houses in the three-county region produce about 90 million broilers a year.

The industry has doubled in size in five years, Basden said.

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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