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Published: Monday, 7/21/2003

Farm may have to bury chickens to meet deadline

Buckeye Egg Farm officials said they likely will have to bury chickens in landfills if they have to close two barns a week beginning in August.

Earlier this month, the Ohio Department of Agriculture revoked operating permits for the farm, which has nearly 15 million chickens in three counties. The company has been cited 87 times for violating its permits, and neighbors have accused it of causing fly outbreaks and polluting waterways.

The company has appealed to a state review commission, and oral arguments in the case are set for tomorrow. One of the issues Buckeye Egg will argue is that it doesn't feel it can comply with the state's timeline for shutting down because rendering facilities won't be able to handle 376,000 chickens a week, said Matt Doyle, chief financial officer for Buckeye Egg. Rendering facilities euthanize the chickens, then use them to make other products, such as animal food.

State officials have argued the company can handle disposing of large numbers of chickens and routinely does so when the chickens are no longer productive layers. The issue, they've argued, is that the company has repeatedly violated its permits and has been cited for pollution, flies, and other problems and needs to close.

The agriculture department has set up a timeline for Buckeye Egg to follow that dictates what farms should be shut down and when, starting Aug. 5.

Mr. Doyle said the company empties an average of one barn every two weeks, which for the northwest Ohio barns is about 175,000 birds, and in Croton, near Columbus, about 100,000 birds. “This would be about four times the number of chickens,” he said.

One option if there are not enough rendering facilities is to bury the chickens in a landfill, but Mr. Doyle said he prefers rendering facilities.

“Somebody else gets some use out of them,” he said. “We believe there's multiple uses for all the products.”

Using landfills would mean the company would be responsible for euthanizing the chickens, Mr. Doyle said.

The company has an unlikely supporter in this issue. Lorri Bauston, executive director of Farm Sanctuary, an animal rescue group, said she would like to see the state give the farm more time to humanely dispose of the animals.

Farm Sanctuary criticized Buckeye Egg for its response to a tornado that destroyed a barn housing one million chickens in 2000, saying it should have rescued the chickens to euthanize them. The company said it was not safe for workers to retrieve all the chickens.

“Nobody involved wants to see the birds treated in a less-than-humane way,” Mr. Doyle said.

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