Frigid weather takes toll on poultry farmers

Published 11:32 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The extremely cold weather is taking its toll on poultry farms around the county. To what extent depends on the age of the birds.

James and Elizabeth Motes escaped Winter Storm Leon by the length of chicken’s beak.

“Our chickens were scheduled to be picked up Tuesday morning and they got them all by 7 a.m.” Elizabeth Motes said. “We were lucky.”

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Jimmy Shaver said that he, too, was the recipient of the luck of the draw.

“My birds are okay,” he said Wednesday. “They’re six weeks old and they can survive the cold. I was lucky because the propane gas company, UPG, has shut of gas to all poultry farms. They’re just going to serve residential customers.”

Shaver said that he had to cut off his ventilation system due to the shortage of gas.

“The ventilation system pulls out the bad air but it also pulls out the heat the chickens generate,” he said. “So, I couldn’t run it because the birds have got to have the heat.”

The extremely cold temperatures have hit Shaver in the pocketbook.

“I’ve already spent $17,000 for gas on this batch of birds,” he said. “I’d usually spend somewhere between $8,000 and $9,000. So this has been a hard winter for poultry farmers around here.”

“Hard winter” doesn’t tell the real story for poultry farmers like Ronnie Lester who was waiting anxiously and hopefully Wednesday afternoon for a load of propane gas.

Lester said that, if he didn’t get the gas by 8:30 Thursday morning, he would lose 110,000 week-old chicks.

“UPG has cut us off,” he said. “Ted Casey has a small operation in Andalusia and he’s trying to get me a load of gas but he can’t get here because of the ice on the roads. But I told him what we can’t do, we can’t do. I don’t want him taking any chances on the roads.”

Because his chickens are so young, Lester said, without gas heat, they don’t generate enough body heat to keep them alive.

“When we first get biddies, the houses have to be kept at 90 degrees and, with the weather as cold as it’s been, that takes a lot of gas,” Lester said. “The biddies are a week old and the houses have to be at 82 degrees. Already, I’ve spent $12,000 on gas and, if I don’t get a load by Thursday morning, I lose six houses of biddies. One hundred and ten thousand of them.”

Frank Talbot has young birds but his propane gas tanks are full and his biddies are doing all right. He is getting gas from Opeleika.

“The tanks are coming down fast but we’ve dropped the set point a little and that helps some,” he said. “Right now, we’re okay but we’re burning up gas. As long as we can get gas we can make it but the trucks can’t get on the roads because of the ice. Hopefully, the weather will warm up and ice will melt and the gas will be available. All poultry farmers need that to happen.”