A Frankford couple got their bragging rights in April as they were honored by the Delmarva Poultry Industry as outstanding poultry producers.
Tami and Chad Mitchell built their first chicken houses in 1996 on Chad's family farm. He took over the farm at a young age when his father died.
The Mitchells raise chickens for Mountaire. He got his latest group of 44,000 day-old chicks May 3.
After about 60 days, the chicks will be full-grown and will be taken to the Millsboro Mountaire processing plant.
"The chicks all arrive on one bus and it takes 12 tractor-trailers to take them out," Michell said.
In addition to poultry, Mitchell tills about 100 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. He takes care of the farm work and Tami takes care of the books.
"I love farming, but it's a lot of paperwork these days," Mitchell said. "There's a lot of regulations and permits; you almost have to be a lawyer to figure it all out."
Mountaire's hatchery expansion is good news to Mitchell, who said the chicks will be happier coming from Millsboro because the travel won't be as stressful. Now chicks are trucked into Delaware from North Carolina and other states. They often arrive dehydrated and stressed, Mitchell said.
"I think it will be good for us because we will get happier chicks, but I'm not sure if it will get more people into the business," Mitchell said. He said the poultry industry requires a lot of money up front to build new chicken houses that meet today's environmental standards.
Mitchell retired three years ago from the Delaware Department of Corrections after 15 years of service. The farm and his pension are his retirement plan, he said.
He and his wife struggled about two years ago when Allen Family Foods declared bankruptcy. The couple was raising chickens for Allen and had to scramble to sign onto another company.
"If you don't have chickens in your houses you are losing money," Mitchell said.
Mitchell called Mountaire and signed on.
"It was like a fire sale - everyone scrambling to sign on," Mitchell said.
Allen has since been purchased by Harim of South Korea, which has signed back on many of the same growers. Allen Harim offered chickens to the Mitchells, but they decided to stay with Mountaire.
"We were very lucky to sign on with Mountaire and we've been happy to work with them for the past few years," Mitchell said.
Since his mother's death in 2010, Mitchell has cleaned up the farm, demolishing old buildings. He worked hard to update his chicken houses with state-of-the-art computer systems.
It is these systems that helped the Mitchells achieve the honor of outstanding poultry producers. By monitoring temperature through the computers, Mitchell can make sure the chickens are happy and not overheated.
"A chicken is like a little furnace. Its body temperature is around 103 degrees, so when the temperatures rise, they can die quickly," Mitchell said. Before the new upgrades to his houses, Mitchell said he could lose an entire flock of chickens in one hot night.
"If you lose power on a 95-degree day, you're done," Mitchell said. "The new system that I have now is amazing."
He recalls last summer during a hot day, the temperature got up to 94 degrees.
"I thought, man, I'm going to have dead chickens tomorrow," Mitchell said. "I looked at the computer and on the cool-end it was 75 degrees, and on the hot end it was 85 degrees."
Mitchell went into the chicken houses the next day to see happy, alive chickens.
"It was an amazing thing to see," Mitchell said.
Delmarva poultry honors
On April 17, Delmarva Poultry Industry awarded the J. Frank Gordy Sr. Delmarva Distinguished Citizen Award, DPI’s highest honor, to chicken industry veteran and past DPI President William G. Massey of Wicomico County, Md., according to a press release. Massey started working in the chicken industry in 1979 as a flock supervisor. He joined Mountaire Farms Inc. in 1988 as a flock supervisor and worked up the ranks; today he is vice president of Live Operations, overseeing hatcheries, feed mills, and grower relations on Delmarva and in North Carolina, said the release.
DPI’s Medal of Achievement Award for an elected person was presented to Maryland Sen. Mac Middleton of Charles County in southern Maryland, said the release. Middleton, DPI officials said Middleton, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is one of the few farmers in the Maryland General Assembly, where he has often supported the chicken industry.
Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee was presented with the Edward H. Ralph DPI Medal of Achievement for a non-elected person.
"Kee, who has a lifetime of involvement with agriculture in Delaware, was educated at the University of Delaware," said the release. "For more than 30 years, he worked for the University of Delaware, retiring in 2008 to become director of agriculture for Hanover Foods Corporation, a national vegetable processing company."
Outstanding poultry producers were selected by their companies from Delmarva’s nearly 1,600 poultry growers, and included: Mark and Theresa Baker, Greenwood, Allen Harim Farms LLC; Sam and Patti Cooper, Marydel, Md., Amick Farms LLC; Rick and Kim Hall, East New Market, Md., Mountaire Farms Inc.; Kiwon and Sunmee Kang, Laurel, Perdue Farms Inc.; Raymond and Dianne Marvel, Houston, Perdue Farms Inc.; Ronnie and Barbara Matthews, Greenbush, Va.,Tyson Foods Inc.; Chad and Tami Mitchell, Frankford, Mountaire Farms Inc.; Honeysuckle Farm, Pocomoke City, Md., Mountaire Farms Inc.; Mindy and Tom Phillips, Gumboro, Perdue Farms Inc.; Jason Powell, Delmar, Md., Mountaire Farms Inc.; Lee and Dana Richardson, Willards, Md., Perdue Farms Inc.; and Ronald and Audrey Tyndall, Seaford,Tyson Foods Inc.
For more information on DPI, go to www.dpichicken.org.
Cost-share program aims to remove old chicken houses
By Rachel Swick Mavity
Drive down any back road in Sussex County and you will see an old, abandoned chicken house.
These chicken houses are havens for high nutrient levels, from nitrogen to potassium and other ammonia salts.
Research done by University of Delaware Extension Specialist Gordon Johnson has found a way to safely remove the chicken houses and the nutrients so that crops can grow. He estimates there are about 1,200 chicken houses in Sussex County that are obsolete.
“Technology moves on, so growers either retire or build new houses,” he said.
Once the house is abandoned, the nutrients remain.
“If you plant a crop where an old chicken house was, nothing will grow. It could take years to get a good crop,” Johnson said.
After four years of research and experimentation, Johnson found carbon was a great way to reduce ammonia levels. He started putting down a layer of wood chips over the chicken house floor.
“The wood migrates down into the soil and the microorganisms start using the carbon in the wood,” Johnson said. “The carbon helps decompose the nitrogen in the soil.”
The process reduces the salt levels in the soil so farmers can grow plants.
In addition to salvaging the soil, the house itself must be torn down, and it isn't a cheap process.
The price tag for cleaning up and removing a chicken house starts at $30,000, Johnson said.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has an office in Georgetown and offers a cost-share program to remove the houses.
Thelton “Ziggy” Savage, Sussex district conservationist, said the cost-share program has successfully removed 15 chicken houses since it started in 2009.
“We get funding through the farm bill, so we have funding for this year, and when Congress decides to start working on the bill we will see what we get for next year,” Savage said.
The cost-share program looks for farmers who want to use the land under old chicken houses. The program requires at least 80 percent of the chicken house roof to be intact.
Savage said once the roof comes off any more than that, the risk of leaching chemicals into the soil and water table is much greater.
“The nutrients just sit there, but if they get rained on, they start leaching,” he said. “As long as the floor is under cover, it is fine.”
It takes about a year to remove the house and clean up the nitrogen and other toxins from the soil, Savage said.
Even with the cost-share program, farmers need to pay from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the size of the chicken houses.
To submit an application for the program, call NRCS in Georgetown at 302-856-3990.