About 40 Eastern Shore chicken houses collapsed under the weight of the recent snows, and now the Maryland Department of the Environment is giving farmers the option to burn the wood debris instead of hauling it to the landfill.
The several feet of snow that fell in Maryland during the storms last month damaged or destroyed at least 41 poultry houses at 29 locations, said Sue duPont, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The average chicken house has about 30,000 birds, duPont said, but not all the houses had birds in them at the time of collapse.
But because of environmental regulations, farmers were concerned that they would have to haul the debris to a landfill, said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican from Somerset County. The cost of hauling the debris could have been between $45,000 and $60,000 per chicken house, he said.
"They've lost their income because their chicken house collapsed," Stoltzfus said, and paying to dispose of the debris is an added financial blow.
But on Thursday the Department of the Environment released new guidance for poultry and livestock farmers. It will allow farmers to burn livestock shelters damaged during the snowstorms, under certain circumstances, including: The building must have been damaged during the snowstorms, carcasses must be separated from building debris, the farmer must receive a burn permit in his or her county, and the materials must be burned by March 21.
In most cases, the chicken houses are owned by the farmers, but the birds are owned by poultry companies, duPont said. Chickens that were not hurt in the collapses were moved to other houses, while some badly injured birds were euthanized, she said.
Farmers typically compost dead animals on their farms, duPont said, though they can take the birds to a commercial composting facility or to some landfills.
Stoltzfus said he was happy the department issued the temporary waiver to allow farmers to dispose of the collapsed chicken houses quickly and affordably.
It is important that farmers can clear the area where the chicken houses stood so they can rebuild, duPont said.
Some producers who suffered damage may be eligible for the Maryland Farm Service Agency's livestock indemnity program. Toby Lloyd, farm programs chief, said farmers should check with their county FSA office to determine eligibility.