That’s what my son said to me as I tried to pry him out of bed this morning for school. “I just can’t Mom, that is not a good morning smell.”
There are pros and cons to living across the road from a large commercial poultry producing operation. However, the chickens were here first. I knew full well what I was getting into and I therefore gave up the right to hate them.
When the bank of chicken houses closest to our home is in the throes of broiler/biddy turnover, and the wind is just right, it’s just not a “pro” sort of day. It doesn’t happen often. Today, I’m just thankful that it got down to 33 degrees last night and it’s just the smell we’re dealing with and not the inevitable warm weather invasion of approximately 6 billion flies who have suddenly been rendered without a home or food source.
Today is one of those rare days, a few times a year, where we have an odd wind, and the odors of the manure from 100,000 chickens amasses in one giant olfactory assault weapon and its built in homing system guides it all directly through every crack, crevice, open door and errant draft into our home. My ex in laws had both layer and broiler houses, and yet somehow I managed to blissfully escape ever having to set foot into either. So I wonder on these days how in the blazes the tenant staff over there can work in those houses all day and not have their respiratory systems just revolt and stop working.
On this particular farm, there are four or five banks of houses, which are cleaned out and turned over roughly every 6 weeks or so, but it’s really only this set of five directly across the road that has this potential for noxious fume warfare.
1. It’s an agriculturally zoned area. There are no neighbors or snotty HOA’s to complain about your pigs er….making more pigs in full view of the street.
2. Your goats aren’t likely to consume 2, 406 dollars worth of professional landscaping and exotic flora when they escape. Which they will, and frequently.
3. In fact, when the goats do escape and go visit the neighbor’s children, there are no panicked phone calls to animal control or 911…the neighbors have enough sense to bait the goats with animal crackers into a pickup bed and simply bring them home with a grin.
4. When your horses liberate themselves, they go no further than the field of grass fronting the chicken houses, which for some reason, tastes infinitely better than the blades in their own pastures. The same applies to the 600 pound beef steer that your significant other treats as a pet and who walks through double charged electric fences like a marathon runner through tape at the finish line.
5. There is always someone at home over there, as poultry farms can never, ever, be left unattended. As an added bonus, they are usually staffed by some of the nosiest, I mean most attentive folks in the world. This means when you are away from your own place, you will be apprised immediately of any visitors, escapees, or strange sights, sounds or smells emitting from your own property. They’re literally better than a battalion of security cameras with a live feed.
6. There are no eyelashes batted at any redneck engineered contraption constructed in your front yard housing gigantic rabbits, poultry or ducks for sale. In fact, the neighbors will even advertise for you.
1. See title. The smell…and the winged rats of the insect world it brings with it. In summer, our bug zapper quite simply, never, ever, stops. It’s a relentless symphony of insect electrocution. Fly strips become a part of your decorating scheme. Not just in the barn, either. Oh, no, my friends, in every. room. in. the. house. These strips also double as a “Haircut facilitation device” every time you inadvertently back into one and an exercise plan as you hone your ninja skills trying to avoid them.
2. Unlike Houdini goats or horseflesh, errant poultry can and will be dispatched without a second though and with extreme prejudice. With the looming possibility that 100,000 chickens can and will be destroyed upon infiltration of one solitary microbe, biosecurity is serious business. Why did the chicken NOT cross the road? Because it wanted to LIVE.
3. The alarms. “Whoowhooowhoowhooowhooowhooowhooo” Every time a temperature drops or rises, a feed or water delivery system is empty or obstructed, or a chicken says “Watch this, boys! It’s time for train a human.” and hits some hidden toggle switch. “Whooowhooowhooo.” 3 am seems to be a favorite time for these games.
4. While we’re at 3 am on the clock, the slot between midnight and three seems to be the default schedule for all incoming or outgoing chickens, and the eighteen wheeled taxis that transport them . It seems most ingress and egress of large vehicles occurs at these hours. In the event that no tenant is there to meet them, there will be blowing of airhorns until a response is observed.
5. Add two slightly unbalanced “I will bark politely at the wind, my reflection, large leaves, the trash guys, my own family’s vehicles and the air I breathe, but am firmly convinced that semi trucks are the dragons on which the dog apocalypse arrives, so I will bark, snarl and hurl myself against the windows like a rabid badger at the sound of air brakes regardless of the hour” chihuahua shaped excuses for dogs to number 4. Good times.
For me, and my family, I prefer our heritage breed chickens, who are fed a non top secret diet of bugs and grain and kitchen scraps, but to each their own. This being Delmarva, poultry houses are a fact of life, and a permanent part of the landscape. They are the wheels, cogs, and the primary fuel for the economy of the entire Delmarva Peninsula. In fact, my kids learned at an early age when we went elsewhere that there is a “smell” to home. Marsh, tidal waters, and chicken manure. When we reached this side of the Bay Bridge someone would infallibly say, “There’s that smell. What’s that smell, kids?” The refrain? “That’s the smell of money.” All kidding aside, I love our area poultry producers (even though it’s not the life for me, or the food for me) because they feed the entire rest of the country and are often a much maligned species.
There’s a disturbing trend that is occurring all over our area, and the country, in that city folks in unprecedented numbers now want to move to the country. That’s all well and good, we are a welcoming sort mostly. The problem arises when Jane and Joe Urbanite purchase their dream home in the country which just so happens to be located next to a poultry farm, or a pig farm, or any kind of farm, really.
Oftentimes, this purchase is followed by the charm of the dream home location being dulled by the smells and sights that are usually part of any small or large scale farming operation. There’s poop. Lots of poop. Poop smells. It stinks, and that’s that. There’s noise, and large machinery, and odd hours being kept. There’s the potential for stray livestock blocking the road, and munching on your pansies.
Then the voluntarily displaced suburbanites tend to get these notions. They adopt an adversarial position and begin making phone calls to towns and counties wanting to know what their rights are as far as controlling the smells and sounds of the very environment they’ve volunteered to be part of. Thankfully, we’re in an area where the answers they receive are frequently pro-farm and anti complainer. In fact, the best one I have heard to date was a council meeting where similar concerns were addressed and a shiny new homeowner in an agricultural area raised that particular question. “So what exactly, are MY rights as far as the enjoyment of the property I just paid a substantial amount of money for?” The answer? “Well, Sir…you have the right to purchase a property elsewhere that doesn’t have a farm next door that has been in operation since before 1908, by four generations of the same family and was located right there when you purchased yours.”
That, my friends, sums up why I love this area. And what makes it home.