Walton hosts rare post-pandemic in-person poultry growers’ field day
GEORGETOWN, Del. — Jonathon Walton, conservation planner for Sussex Conservation District, hosted a Poultry Growers’ Field Day at Walton Farms, on Nov. 3.
In-person field days haven’t been possible since the pandemic began, and when approached about the idea, Walton recognized it as an outreach opportunity for a lot of people.
As a 4-Her, Walton had a few small backyard flocks, but this is his first venture into large scale poultry growing.
He has two new 60- by 600-foot houses, each capable of holding 36,000 birds, depending on the time of year.
Walton’s family owned farmland but it was rented to a neighbor.
At 16 he worked on a beef cattle farm and he started farming on his own with livestock in 2008. He and his wife, Amber, have a 5-month-old daughter, Mackenzie.
With plenty of room to socially distance in the not-yet-occupied poultry house, some 300 commercial growers visited with vendors and sat in on several informative sessions repeated throughout the day, earning nutrient management credits for Maryland or Delaware.
Three companies took the opportunity to present their ideas for improved mortality management:
• Better Composting: The University of Delaware was on hand to warn of common composting mistakes, including: not adding birds in a single layer, spread out, and not using enough litter or adding enough carbon material. UD’s “recipe” calls for 12 inches of base litter, then 6 inches of straw or wood shavings and a single layer of birds — repeated twice, topped with 10 inches of litter.
These techniques will increase the value and consistency of the final product and decrease smells, flies and neighbors’ complaints.
• Farm Freezers: Available from Greener Solutions, on-farm freezer units eliminate the smells, flies and scavengers that come with open composting.
Additional benefits, according to the company, are enhanced biosecurity, reduced regulatory risk and improved quality of life on the farm.
Open the lid, drop the birds inside, then close the lid. Schedule collection after catch day.
Rather than being composted, the mortality is recycled, with fats often used to make biodiesel and protein meal used for aquaculture feed. For more information, visit www.farmfreezers.com.
• EcoDrum In-vessel Composting: Looking much like an oil tanker without wheels, EcoDrum In-vessel Composting offers “composting, simplified,” for poultry mortality. Based in Arkansas, the company has been servicing the Delmarva area for the last three or four years.
Using a 1:2 ratio of dead birds to pine shavings, the EcoDrum takes 14 to 21 days to produce a finished compost that can be land applied.
Volume is reduced by about 80 percent.
Rivets inside the drum push the material to the other end as it rotates six times a day. Air is injected every 45 minutes.
The unit requires little maintenance, just oil and grease once a year. For more information, visit www.ecodrumcomposter.com.
• Litter Management: Jones-Hamilton Ag provided lunch for attendees and took the opportunity to discuss its PLT Poultry Litter Amendment which has a 25-year track record of lowering litter pH and controlling ammonia.
Applied with any spreader, PLT immediately binds ammonia, decreasing ventilation needs.
It turns volatile ammonia into stable ammonium sulfate, which increases the fertilizer value of manure.
This breaks down into hydrogen, sodium and sulfate.
For more information, visit JonesHamiltonAg.com.
• Winter Ventilation Tips: Jim Karsnitz of Eastern Shore Poultry reminded growers that ammonia opens an avenue to respiratory disease in birds.
It shortens the cilia in the trachea. Nitrogen in the litter is determined by diet — the more protein, the more ammonia.
How much leaves the litter is determined by temperature and surface area.
Ammonia gas is heavy. It stays closer to the ground. If a handful of litter holds its shape in a ball, that’s bad. Ventilation is needed to eliminate moisture.
Opening doors causes rapid heat loss. You’ll lose 15 degrees in seven days, requiring more fuel to raise the temperature again.
Use vents to first control moisture, then ammonia. Turn fans on during the day and off at night. Keep poultry houses shut tight during down time.
Preheat to a minimum of 85 degrees to purge ammonia.
Tilling the litter in a house or windrowing creates more surface area and thereby more ammonia, requiring more litter amendment.
Cake-out doesn’t disturb as much, so focus on the cake, Karsnitz said.
Only de-cake areas that are caked, often under the drip lines of waterers, and go no deeper than 2 to 5 inches.
The best litter is in the center, so remove crust from the sides.
The goal is to minimize surface area.
An ammonia detection kit and hygrometer or moisture gauge are helpful tools.
Don’t leave the hygrometer in the poultry house, he advised.
• Vegetative Buffers: Bobby Gorski of Sussex County Conservation District offered conservation practice fact sheets on hedgerow planting with trees and shrubs as well as warm-season grasses.
He also handed out copies of a “VEB Tool-Kit” — a guide to vegetative environmental buffers for tunnel-ventilated chicken houses prepared by Delmarva Chicken Association.
These 49-page guides offer thorough details on design, plant selection, installation, irrigation, weed control, maintenance and even funding. An appendix lists suitable plants and sources for those plants.
The guides have been translated into Urdu, Vietnamese and Korean, thanks in part to a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
• Solair Green Energy Advisors: Tom Agnetti, solar consultant and system designer for Solair, talked with potential clients.
If they were customers of Delmarva Power and Light, “they should be running to find us,” he asserted, “because on average they pay 50 to 75 percent more than Delaware Electric Cooperative customers. I’ve looked at hundreds of bills and this is a fact.”
Agnetti has been in the solar industry for more than eight years.
He outlined some advantages of solar energy: no pollution, quiet production of electricity, feasible in remote locations and less dependence on fossil fuels.
“It’s an affordable means of controlling cost of doing business,” he said.
Solar systems can be paid off in less than five years on average, he said. “With federal grants, I’ve had customer break even in one to two years.”
Solar installation begins with a discussion of options during a site visit. Solair evaluates electric bills, then creates a custom design and proposal.
The client reviews the design and they discuss financing options and grants/tax credits available.
If Solair is consulted before construction begins on a poultry house, it may be possible to situate the house with the north-south orientation that will maximize production of electricity from a roof-top solar system.
Agnetti said, “I design the systems and in doing so I calculate shade by creating existing obstructions from the site and using Lidar data and historical weather data to do so. On average with the orientation and roof pitch of a typical poultry house, you would need 20 to 25% more panels on a house that faces east/west, than you would on one with a southern facing.”
Located in Selbyville, Del., Solair provides solar systems also in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
For more information, visit www.getsolair.com.