Proposed chicken farm owners rebut concerns
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— Galen and Crystal Horst have been farming their England Creamery Road land for nearly 14 years.
The couple has five children and hopes to provide a future in farming for them and continue in the Horst family tradition. That future includes an organic, freerange chicken operation.
“It’s something we thought would be a great asset, to keep it in the family,” Crystal said Wednesday.
“This will be great for our children.”
More than 100 neighbors met Monday night at the American Legion in Rising Sun to make plans to fight the Horsts’ proposed chicken operation. Led by Brian Frymiare, the group is concerned about air and water contamination, health issues and damage to the water table, among other items. Also on their list of complaints is what they feel is a lack of communication from the government agencies involved.
The Horsts are aware of the uproar and say if it were as dangerous as some are making it sound, they would not be considering building the operation either.
“We are just not going to put our own family at risk,” she said. “We want people to know what we’re doing. We want them to have the right information.”
She suspects the detractors are not aware of the layers of rules and regulations they will follow to raise 1-day-old chicks into
broilers for Perdue Farms. The couple is still in the permitting process and has no idea when ground would be broken on the more than 220 acres for the four 60-by-600foot chicken houses. Keeping the neighbors in mind, they plan to situate the houses far inside their own property lines. In a report by the Cecil County Health Department, the Horsts were given high marks for the 600-foot buffers.
“The recommendations of this assessment include setbacks for new chicken houses of 400 feet from a dwelling and 100 feet from a property line. The Horst proposal greatly exceeds these setbacks,” the report reads.
“And we’re hoping to plant trees as a buffer,” Crystal added.
Colby Ferguson with the Maryland Farm Bureau said it appears “they are trying to be good neighbors.”
Citing Maryland’s “Right To Farm” law, Ferguson said the Horsts are within their rights to farm their land because it is already zoned agricultural.
“And neighbors are to understand there are certain smells and slow moving equipment,” he said.
At the Zion Acres Farm on Wednesday, several cars drove slowly down England Creamery Road, coming to a near stop in front of the Horst’s house. Windows rolled down and people gazed at the farm.
“This happens a lot,” Crystal explained, adding that since word of their plans got out they have also had a few people knock on their door.
“Two of the three understand more. We were able to answer some of their questions,” Crystal said.
As it turns out, Galen is familiar with the chicken industry. He was raised in the Quarryville, Pa., area.
“We had a family farm. Then my dad bought a farm here when I was 6,” said Galen, the youngest of 12 children. “I have brothers in the chicken business.”
Perdue, through Coleman, its organic chicken label, is looking for more farmers to take on these operations. The Meck farm on Route 213 in Earleville is home to two 63-by-700 foot chicken houses.
“They had a meeting for local farmers,” Galen said.
Already familiar with the industry, Galen liked the idea and Crystal did as well.
“It was something we thought would be a great as- set, to keep it in the family,” she said.
The plan is to have the children involved in the dayto-day operations. Feeding and watering would be automated, but the family would monitor the flocks and maintain the buildings.
“A lot of people are concerned about the noise of the fans, but they’re quiet,” Crystal said.
Chicken manure is dry, not wet because of the litter, which is fluffed to aid the drying process. Like most livestock, there are odors, but Galen said chicken odor is minimal in most cases.
“We’ll compost inside the houses and we’ll use some of it, but not all of it,” he added.
Unlike cow manure, which is 92 percent liquid, Ferguson said chicken manure is more manageable and less noxious.
“It’s a much cleaner operation,” he said.
Their best management practices rulebook governs when and how the manure can be spread and transported.
“People have no idea how much chicken manure passes through this county,” Galen said. “They usually go big at night, which is the best time to transport.”
As for the water tables, Galen said the chickens would take less water than his cows.
“The amount of water was blown way out of proportion,” he said. “If there was even a remote possibility (of damage to the water table), I don’t think Cecil County would have allowed it.”
Ferguson said dairy operations are more noticeable to neighbors than the poultry houses would be, from the water table standpoint as well.
“Dairy farms use enormous amounts of water and it’s more difficult to control the manure,” Ferguson said. “As far as control of odor or waste, it’s astronomically better in a poultry operation.”
“If they are going organic they can’t put as many birds in the house,” he said, adding organic methods include other components such as outdoor access.
The dairy operation has been scaled back to raising custom heifers for others. Both Galen and Crystal see the future — and the future of their children — in the organic, free- range poultr y operation.
“Farming is hard work and dedication,” Crystal said. “We’re blessed to be here and raise our children on this farm.”
A supportive resident left this note and flag on the windshield of a Cecil County Sheriff’s Office deputy’s patrol car.
The Horsts own Zion Acres Farm on England Creamery Road in Zion. While they have farmed the 220 acres for 13 years, Galen comes from a farming lineage and has family in Maryland and Pennsylvania who also farm.