Friday On The Farm ~ 2/25/2022

Lets Talk About Chicken

My family has been in the chicken business since 1937 When my great grandfather Victor Weaver decided his wife’s kitchen was a great place to butcher chickens to sell to neighbors. Thankfully for their marriage, that original business plan expanded out of her kitchen and into a market-based chicken business.

While that is a fun (and true) antidote from the history of my family’s past, it’s wild to think of how efficient our food system has become. My relatives would butcher a few dozen chickens, freeze them, and take them into Philly to sell at the market. In today’s world, we raise approximately half a million chickens a year on our farm and that is considered a relatively small operation. My great grandfather started Weaver chicken company which was in operation until the late 1980’s when it was purchased by Holly Farms which was later purchased by Tyson. It’s a much different industry now than in their day.

Today, everything is bigger…except the number of companies involved. Lapp Farms LLC is contracted with Tyson to grow chickens. They provide the chickens, feed, and manual labor to collect the chickens at harvest time. We provide the building, heat, electric, and water. My father always joked that we own a hotel for chickens and would call my sister the chicken Paris Hilton. There is a lot of controversy around contract farming, the big 4 packers, “factory farming, and many other buzz words. For today I’m going to stay away from all of that and give you a look into two things. The first is how we prepare for a new flock of chickens and the second is the current outbreak of Avian Influenza which is sweeping the nation.

When we get a new flock of chickens it’s nice to start fresh. For every flock we remove the old manure and spread a new base layer of wood shavings on top of the concrete floor. The chicken houses are long and narrow around 45’ x 400’ which allows much of the feeding process to be mechanized.

A look at the top part of one of our chicken houses. The metal bin are feed hoppers which hold feed before it goes down the auger to the chickens

As you can see in the video below, we split the house in half to keep the chickens together and to lower the amount of space we need to heat. When the chickens get to around 12 days old, we will remove the divider and allow them to spread out to the rest of the house. One of the most important things for us to accomplish in the first few weeks of a new flock is to keep feed incredibly accessible. As the chickens get older, they will transition to the automatic feedlines but for the beginning of their life they need feed right in front of them at all times.

In this second video you can see how we get water to the chickens. As with humans, water consumption and feed consumption are tied together. If the baby chicken doesn’t find the water source, they won’t consume enough food to develop and they will fall behind the other birds in growth.

If you are wondering, yes, my dog does help us in the chicken house. Ok, she might not help…but it lets here run around while we prepare the houses.

Babies need warmth. Baby chickens are no different. Our chicken houses are heated to around 92 degrees on the first day of a new flock of chickens. By the time the chickens are full grown the preferred temperature is around 62. Our heaters and ventilation system work together to regulate the temperature to keep it in the proper range.

Each flock of chickens is at our farm for about 44 days. They grow from little baby chicks to full grown 7-pound birds and are then ready to feed the massive demand across the country for delicious chicken. It can be hard for some people to understand how farmers can compartmentalize raising one animal for food and then having another animal as a part of our family and sleep in bed with us (Yes, Zoey sleeps in our bed…and hogs the covers). I can explain it like this: These chickens would not exist if there was not demand from humans for the nourishment they provide. If we were to release them into the wild, they would almost all die within a week due to natural predators. These animals are to serve a purpose: to feed us. Our dog is to serve another purpose: keep my wife’s sanity after being married to me for almost 4 years 😊

I’ll try to tackle another angle of the chicken industry another week. One note is due to our contract with Tyson and a history of animal activist trying to distort certain things I will not be including any pictures with chickens. That’s just the nature of animal agriculture in 2022.

Currently across the country there have been out breaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu). Below is information on the disease and its progress. This is something that my family was impacted with in the 1980’s and I will do a deeper write up on for a different week.

Biosecurity Alert: Avian Influenza in Commercial Poultry on February 23, 2022

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza detected in a commercial flock in Delaware

Poultry producers and hobbyists should be aware that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has been detected in commercial poultry flocks, small/backyard hobby flocks, and in migratory birds in the United States. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has reported 247 H5N1 positive wild birds in nine states on the East coast. In addition, six states have confirmed H5N1 positive commercial and backyard flocks. The most recent HPAI outbreak was confirmed on an egg laying facility in Delaware on February 23, 2022. Flock size has varied between a few birds to several houses on a premises. It is critical that all poultry owners, regardless of flock size, take appropriate biosecurity precautions at this time. Now is the time to revisit your biosecurity plan. If you do not have a biosecurity plan, it’s not too late to start. Preventing the introduction and spread of this devastating disease is essential. While you are working on your Biosecurity Alert: Avian Influenza in Commercial Poultry on February 23, 2022 biosecurity plan, here are a few key biosecurity practices to implement immediately:

  • Keep your poultry away from other birds
  • Immediately clean up feed spills to discourage wild birds on your premises
  • Limit visitors to only those essential for business. Make sure all visitors follow your biosecurity plan
  • Wear dedicated footwear and clothing while servicing your poultry to minimize spreading the virus. Sanitize boots, hands, and tools before entering your flock premises

If you need assistance developing a biosecurity plan, you can visit Penn State Extension’s Avian Influenza webpage. To stay informed of the avian influenza situation in the US you can visit the USDA APHIS avian influenza webpage. Finally, if you suspect your flock has been exposed to the HPAI virus, please call the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at 717–772–2852.

Written by: Douglas Benjamin Lapp, RULE XVIII. Doug lives in Chester County and works on his families farm. Doug is active within the Chester/Delaware County Farm Bureau as well as the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau

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PSU RULE ~ Ag Division

A collection of PSU Rural Urban Leadership (RULE) Scholars going in depth about modern agriculture. RULE is the premier leadership program in Pennsylvania