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Hard work of raising organic broilers pays off for Delaware farmers

Chris Brosch, Kenny Bounds, John and Linda Brown and Steve Cambron
ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDS: John and Linda Brown grow organic broiler chickens on their L&J Farm. They received the 2018 Delaware Environmental Stewardship Award at Delaware Ag Week. Pictured are Chris Brosch (left), Delaware nutrient management administrator; Kenny Bounds, deputy ag secretary; John and Linda Brown; and Steve Cambron, Coleman Organic.
John and Linda Brown won the 2018 Delaware Environmental Stewardship Award.

While raising organic broilers can be more lucrative than raising conventional birds, it’s also a lot more work. At least that’s been the experience of John and Linda Brown, owners of L&J Farm in Harrington, Del.

“It’s probably three times as much work to raise organic birds. With all of the enhancements and the outdoor, indoor stuff … it’s a lot more work, but we enjoy being organic growers. We’re proud to be organic growers,” says John, who has been growing broiler chickens with his wife, Linda, since 1988.

They made their transition to organic production in 2014 after being approached by Coleman Organic, which is owned by poultry integrator Perdue Farms. The Browns have been growing birds for Perdue since they put up their first houses.

John says it cost them $76,000 to retrofit four houses for organic production — the two original houses and two houses that were built in 2005. Last year, the Browns built two more houses.

All told, the six houses hold 130,000 birds per flock, and they raise between five and six flocks per year. The turnaround time per flock is around three weeks, John says.

“We know so much more about the bird now that we grow organic birds,” he says. “We know how to order feed, what they eat, when they changeover feed. We know diseases that they have, what we can do, what we can’t do.”

But the farm’s improvements aren’t just inside the houses. The Browns have also installed stormwater ponds and cement pads to control runoff, and trees and buffers to help control noise and odors.

The Browns were recognized for their conservation efforts at Delaware Ag Week with the 2018 Delaware Environmental Stewardship Award. They got a check for $1,000, plus a plaque and sign for their farm. But John credits his wife for keeping up with all the technology while he was deployed in the military for 10 years.

“Our oldest houses are just as new with the technology as our newest houses are,” he says. “Every upgrade that came along, Linda took care of all that while I was deployed.”

Environmental stewards
While the overall award was presented to the Browns, three other farms were recognized for the conservation efforts.

The Delaware Nutrient Management Commission partners with Delmarva’s poultry integrators in sponsoring the awards. Each integrator selects a grower for the award and the runners-up each received $500, a plaque and a sign:

Mountaire Farms
Chad and Joanna Carpenter of Georgetown, Del., who own East Piney Grove Farms, have been raising chickens since 2010 for Mountaire Farms, with a capacity of 300,000 birds.

The Carpenters have installed heavy-use pads, fenced off the composter to keep vultures and foxes away from the composted mortalities, and they’ve redesigned the drainage swales to prevent runoff from going into nearby tax ditches. They have also planted a vegetative buffer of trees to help with odors.

Ken and Nicole Wilkins of Felton, Del., who own Funny Farm, grow for Amick.

In 2015 they built three poultry houses on their homestead, along with a manure shed and channel composter. The stormwater engineering includes a large stormwater pond to treat runoff from the production area. A screen of trees has been planted to assist in containing odors. Fly traps are used throughout the farm and near the composter to reduce these pests.

Allen Harim
Carol Johnson of Bridgeville, Del., who grows for Allen Harim, raises 90,000 chickens and tills 25 acres on Loockerman Farm.

The farm has two manure structures, has heavy-use pads installed on the poultry houses, and utilizes solar energy to help power the poultry operation. In addition, cover crops are used on the cropland.

Johnson has been a 4-H leader for more than 25 years.

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