Fifteen thousand chickens! That seems like a big number but let's put it in perspective.
These are egg-laying chickens that have very little meat on them and they weigh only 3-4 pounds each. My math says that equates to 60,00 pounds of livestock. Typically beef cows weigh 1,250 pounds or more and weaned calves 550 pounds or more. Therefore in terms of body mass, 15,000 chickens equal 45 to 50 beef cows or 100 to 110 weaned calves. Simple straight-forward math, yet the opposition to West Slope Layers is claiming these chickens equal 183 cows.
Keep in mind that chickens are considered livestock by state law. This is a single family with their daughter and son-in-law in the operation. If family farms were truly exempt from county and state regulations we would not be having this battle in the courts. So does every livestock producer and everyone in agriculture have something to fear? You bet they do. Our ability to produce food is in jeopardy and that affects everyone who eats.
The plaintiffs in this case want to call this a commercial operation as opposed to a family farm. According to Webster commercial is defined as "involved in work designed for the mass market having profit as a primary aim." First this is a family-run operation that also has a cow-calf enterprise. West Slope Layers produces an average of about 10,200 eggs daily. According to the National Egg Producers the national average per capita consumption of eggs is 250 annually. Delta County's 2011 population was 30,412, which calculates to this county consuming 20,8000 eggs daily, twice the number of eggs West Slope Layers is producing. You be the judge of whether producing one-half the eggs for Delta County is producing for a mass market. Having a profit as a primary aim is true of every family farm or ranch I know. Therefore, is this a commercial operation?
The plaintiffs also want to call this a "confined animal operation (factory farm)." By the numbers I just presented every rancher who puts 100 calves in a corral for weaning would fall in the same category of confined animal feeding. According to the EPA and state regulation a chicken facility must have 100,000 chickens (remember West Slope Layers has 15,000) to be considered a concentrated animal feeding operation. They do not define confined.
As proof to the claims of injury to individuals' health, the plaintiffs are using a study from Great Britain. That study looked at employees working in the building with chickens, not neighbors who live a quarter mile or more away. It also was a facility that used wet manure storage so obviously the ammonia levels in the building were quite high. West Slope Layers has a system that dries the manure out within 24 hours and stores the waste dry thus it has very low ammonia levels. The humidity in Great Britain is also very high which helps contribute to high odor and ammonia levels. The bottom line is this study has nothing to do with the situation on Powell Mesa. Then the plaintiffs got local physicians to believe their illness occurred at the time of the chicken house opening with no proof. Lastly these physicians told the court that because two events occur at the same time there is a cause-and-effect relationship and went on to plagiarize conclusions from the Great Britain study to document their "illnesses." One would think these two doctors would be smarter than that.
West Slope Layers has thus far funded the legal battle on their own and I hate to think what it has cost our county. Delta County Farm Bureau hosted a very successful fundraiser that will give them a boost to keep fighting this battle. By the way, donations are still being taken. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, are being backed by a group called Socially Responsible Agricultural Projects. This is a liberal group based in Oregon that claims to have a goal to protect the environment from the adverse effects of confined animal operations or factory farms.
The bottom line is your property rights are being taken away when a few can tell someone else what they can or cannot do to make a living. Our elected county commissioners have repeatedly said this agricultural enterprise was acceptable. We all need to get behind our commissioners and help them stand up to the courts so they can get back to ruling our county. I strongly encourage everyone to make calls, write letters, contact the courts and let's put a stop to this.
David Kuntz, DVM