GENE LOGSDON: Contemplation On A Dead Chicken



The Contrary Farmer

A neighbor showed me a neat way to get rid of dead animals which I think we mentioned here some time ago. He buries a dead old hen in a pile of horse manure and in a few months, voila!, it disappears, bones and all. I imagine this works better with horse manure than most other kinds because it heats up faster and hotter. I almost burned our barn down in my more ignorant years when I made a big pile of horse manure right in the horse stall.

Composting dead animals as well as manure has become a standard practice on farms and works fairly well. But as you can surmise, the more animals involved, the more problematical the process becomes. Last year, when avian flu struck and millions of turkeys and chickens had to be disposed of, what a horrid mess that meant. When I think about it, I return again to my dismay over the tendency to increase the size of farm operations unendingly. The reason for doing so is to increase profits of course or mostly to keep up with costs. Industrial economics can’t work any other way. Production must be increased steadily, or the system won’t work.

There are four ways to get rid of several million dead chickens. 1. Burn them. This is very expensive and it’s hard to find an incinerator of sufficient capacity. 2. Bury them. But many areas where big chicken farms are located in areas that have high water tables which means possible ground water contamination. 3. Landfill them. But that means risking the spreading of the disease to other areas during transportation.

So that leaves composting as the best alternative and it is not usually being done with speedy horse manure . Composting is a very expensive proposition when lots of animals are involved. To compost 150,000 chickens properly requires a mound of sawdust, woodchips or other carbon-rich amendments seven feet high by 100 feet wide and 100 feet long with the dead chickens sandwiched in the middle, says  this article I am reading from. And profit-eating time, of course. If you have to try to compost several million chickens you can imagine what a colossal undertaking would be involved, and I daresay that no matter what the composting experts say, it would stink to high heaven.

Can any biological operation like producing chickens and eggs be truly profitable in an industrial manufacturing process? The evidence against the “industry” seems to me almost absolute. All the subsidies governments hand out to farmers trying to do it the industrial way seem to provide proof.  Composting manure in chicken factories is very costly and then the compost must be transported to farm fields far away. Just one cost that is not counted into the operation is the upkeep of country roads that the trucks full of compost tear up on the way to farm fields. The county has to do that.

Many statistics undermine the profit claims of industrial agriculture. I read that we are using about two dollars worth of petroleum based inputs to produce four dollars worth of crops. In 1930 we used one barrel of oil to extract 100. In 2013, one barrel extracted 11. Two calories of fossil fuel energy are used to produce one food calorie. I read that if all costs are counted in, it takes 10 to 12 calories of fossil energy for every calorie of food on our plates. A study done in 1930 in China claimed that for one calorie invested, farmers harvested more than 40. I suppose industrial agriculture can supply countervailing statistics but surely all this points to something going haywire in our industrial food philosophy.

The profit per egg from a big egg factory is a tiny fraction of a penny. I sell a few eggs for a dollar a dozen and not only think of  that as almost pure profit, but as increasing the value of the land and the exercise I employ doing what little work is involved. More significantly, tens of thousands of small flocks of hens, as part of tens of thousands of small farms’ production, can produce organic eggs at at least three cents worth of profit, I’m sure. And provides more market stability and food security than factory eggs. Can industrialists ever face up to the notion that they just might be wrong about food production? Or could I ever face up to the notion that I might be wrong? And life goes on.