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Jefferson County egg farm composting millions of chickens after bird flu outbreak

chicken egg farm
Posted at 6:15 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 19:27:20-04

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Wisc. — An egg farm in Jefferson County is now composting around 2.75 million chickens after an outbreak of Avian Influenza.

Earlier this month, the USDA confirmed positive cases of the virus at Cold Spring Egg Farm, which is owned by S&R Egg Farms, Inc.

According to the county, the farm began "depopulating" its entire stock of layers on March 16. In the following days, it began to compost some of the birds.

The state and county said composting is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of the carcasses. They used the same method in 2015 during a previous outbreak in Jefferson County, one of the largest egg producers in the United States.

But, according to Jefferson County Emergency Management Director, Donna Haugom, there's not enough space on the farm to compost of all of the chickens.

Cold Spring owns land about six miles away. After a site inspection, federal, state and local officials determined it was safe to compost the bulk of the birds at that second location, which is an empty field near the intersection of Hooper and Zion Roads.

Some residents living nearby are unhappy.

"Our groundwater. That's our biggest concern," said Kay Braaten, who lives right across the street from the site. "It isn't the birds and how they're being composted. It's the groundwater."

They're worried it may become undrinkable if anything from the compost process leaks into their water table. They say they're frustrated that they've had to do a baseline test of their well water.

The Braatens said it should be up to officials to handle that, because they brought the chicken carcasses to them.

According to the county, before composition begins at the Hooper and Zion site, the county will make sure that residents are supplied with test kits.

But homeowners, like the Braatens, will have to do their own testing, said Haugom. She said it's an "easy" test.

"We are not going to do anything to try to hurt you," said Haugom. "If you have any questions, you can give me call. I will not let you down. I will find an answer."

Still, for those who aren't convinced the process is safe, it's a matter of waiting to test their water a second time about a month from now — once the composting has run its course.

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