Poultry farmers discuss industry at festival
WYE MILLS — Moderating a panel discussion of poultry farmers at the Chesapeake Storytelling Festival, Sept. 16 at Chesapeake College, was Jenny Rhodes, Queen Anne’s University of Maryland Extension Service senior agent and educator.
Participating on the panel were growers, Ashley Brown from Hurlock, Dorchester County; Andrew McClain, grower and past president of the Delmarva Poultry Industry and former banker; and Spangler “Buzz” Klopp, a retired veterinarian for the poultry industry from Lewes, Delaware.
The festival — which brings in storytellers from around the country — also offers locals an opportunity to share from their experiences here on the Eastern Shore.
Rhodes, who is a past president of DPI (a trade association for the chicken industry), works to help farmers problem solve and identify resources and programs available in the state.
The session was more informative than storytelling, but Rhodes related the industry had its origins when in 1926 a woman by the name of Steele ordered 50 chickens for her personal farm and received in error 500 birds.
Those first broilers (smaller chickens raised for meat) sold for 62 cents per pound of live weight, said Rhodes. Present day there are more than 1,200 farm families on the shore now, with 11 million chickens produced per week.
The industry really is the backbone of the economy on the Eastern Shore, said Rhodes, with the combination of chicken growers, grain producers, and allied businesses.
Klopp shared his beginnings in the poultry in the industry when in 1968 the state of Maryland had an agreement with Georgia to send MD residents to Georgia for veterinary school at the state rate of $442 tuition per year. He graduated in 1972 and continued to use his skills in the poultry industry before retiring.
The panelists shared several of the concerns that face modern day poultry farmers such as disease, natural disaster, and the economy. It is an adaptive industry, but one that is also competitive, said McClain. Explaining the tournament system by which final pay is determined based on (bird) weight of farms settling (birds sent out for sale) the same week.
“It is a competitive market, but that competition is what keeps the ball rolling,” said McClain.
There is also the added responsibility of managing nutrients produced by poultry farmers, the panel discussed, weighing in on best management practices and nutrient management. Nutrients that were not previously considered a pollutant, now must be carefully monitored.
However, chicken litter is much sought after product, agreed Rhodes and McClain; a good natural resource — a locally produced, slow released fertilizer, quipped Rhodes.
Because of these new processes, chicken houses are no longer completely cleaned out on a yearly basis, but are now naturally composted between flocks within the houses.
The manure sheds — used to house the composted litter — are still the safest place on the farm, joked McClain, adding that if he had to ride out a hurricane, you would find him there, because it is such an imperviously built structure.
Poultry farmers have an innate connection with their resources and recycle everything, agreed the panel; it is about creating a synergy and for most maintaining a family tradition and business.
Said Brown, she and her family know first hand about hardships on a farm, her father passed away after an accident occurred on their farm, leaving her and her mother to manage where he left off. “We are a family farm,” said Brown, “run by women ... it [the responsibility] is on us.”
McClain said when he was 5 years old he had dreamed of becoming an Indian, he was very disappointed to learn that was not to be. He then decided on becoming an ornithologist (one who studies birds), “it’s funny how that worked out,” he joked.
For Rhodes, a life-long resident of Queen Anne’s, farming is what she always wanted to do, she said.
Jenny Rhodes, chicken grower and University of Maryland extension service senior agent and educator, moderates the panel of poultry farmers at the Chesapeake Storytelling Festival on Sept. 16.
A panel of poultry farmers at the Chesapeake Storytelling Festival on Sept. 16 includes Ashley Brown of Dorchester County and Andrew McClain, Queen Anne’s County.