By JENNIFER HLAD
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 27, 2010) - About 40 Eastern Shore chicken houses collapsed under the weight of the recent snow, 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 earlier this month damaged or destroyed at least 41 poultry houses at 29 different 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 they would have to haul remains of the houses to a landfill, said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset. The cost of hauling the debris could have been between $45,000 and $60,000 per chicken house, Stoltzfus 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 Thursday, the Maryland Department of the Environment released new guidance for poultry and livestock farmers. The department will allow farmers to burn poultry and other livestock shelters damaged during the snowstorms this month, under certain circumstances.
Among the requirements: The building must have been damaged during the snowstorms, animal carcasses must be separated from the 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 the 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 in Delaware 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 famers can clear the area where the chicken houses stood so they can rebuild, duPont said.
Lewis Riley, a farmer in eastern Wicomico County who served as the secretary of agriculture from 1994 to 1997 and again from 2003 to 2007, said his son had a chicken house that was heavily damaged in the storm. But the house was empty at the time, and he is working with his insurance company to repair it, Riley said.
"If a whole house went down with birds in it, that'd be quite a cleanup," he said.
Some producers who suffered damage may be eligible for the Farm Service Agency's livestock indemnity program. Toby Lloyd, farm programs chief for the Maryland Farm Service Agency, said farmers should check with their county FSA office to determine eligibility.
For more agriculture-related information about storm recovery, visit the Department of Agriculture's Web site at http://www.mda.state.md.us, or the Maryland Department of the Environment's site at http://www.mde.state.md.us/ .
Capital News Service contributed to this report.