A few days after we visited Georgie’s farm, she stopped by Carvel Center to give a lecture about the evolution of poultry farming on Delmarva and the challenges that poultry growers face due to negative public perception of the poultry industry.
Every aspect of poultry farming on Delmarva has changed in some way since its inception, from the way the birds are housed, fed and watered to the technology used to monitor temperature, feed and water consumption. The size of the chickens has even changed, with birds having quadrupled in size over the last 70 years.
While these changes have revolutionized the poultry industry, some of them have garnered a negative public perception of the industry. For example, the quadrupling in size of chickens has led some outside the industry to accuse growers of using steroids and growth hormones. In truth, the increased size is due to selective breeding.
Between our visit to Georgie’s farm and her lecture, I feel that I now have a more comprehensive view of the poultry industry and the myriad economic and environmental challenges that growers face, as well as their continual fight against negative public perception.
My visit to Georgie Cartanza’s organic poultry farm began with a brief presentation of the poultry industry in Delaware. We were then taken on a tour of the farm, including the chicken houses, the composter and the generator shed, which holds one of the most vital pieces of equipment on the entire farm. In the event of a power failure, Georgie explained that she has approximately 20 minutes to restore power using the generator before the chickens begin to suffer adverse effects, up to and including death.
There was a large fenced area between each house which allows the chickens to roam freely during the day once they reach a certain age. They are provided with shade structures to keep them out of the sun. This playtime, along with several other specifications, are required to grow organic poultry.
Inside one of the houses, Georgie discussed how the chickens are fed and watered, as well as the role of tunnel ventilation and temperature control, which is closely monitored through a central control system. She explained that it’s much easier to use this relatively new piece of technology as opposed to manually controlling the temperature in each house.
It was interesting to hear that the chickens are provided with wooden ramps to climb on, and that the lights are turned off for several hours each day to provide them with a period of time to rest.
While I have been exposed to bits and pieces of the poultry industry since I was a kid, I have never been presented with such a comprehensive view of the poultry industry. I greatly enjoyed my time at Georgie’s farm and found her to be very informative.
On September 7, 2019 the entire class took a trip to Dover, Delaware to visit a poultry farm. Though I grew up not too far from this farm, I never new of it’s existence. The farm is owned by a Ms. Georgie Cartanza, a Nuffield Scholar and the current University of DE Poultry Extension Agent. Ms. Cartanza began the trip by introducing herself and sharing a bit of backstory. She told this to us while we sat on a makeshift amphitheater of sorts made up of packages of pine shavings set up on the concrete heavy-use pad in the shadow of a barn used for storage.
After the presentation, we were presented with Personal Protective Equipment- intended more for the chickens safety than our own- in the form of rubber booties, coveralls, and hairnets.
Looking quite stylish and now rendered unable to sneak-up on anyone, we loudly rustled and awkwardly shuffled around the other side of the barn where we saw the EcoDrum and the product of it’s ‘in-vessel composting process’.
Opposite the barn, we could see behind up an identical structure with a manual composting drum.
After marveling at the innovative composting technology we walked over to the actual chicken houses themselves. We got to hear about the technology used to run the chicken houses, namely the Environmental Controller- revolutionary device that allows a single farm to take care of 37, 000 chickens. A prominent part of that technology, displayed broadly on the sides of all the houses, are the large fans to bring the temperature of the chicken house down when necessary.
We also learned about the pasture areas between the houses and the advantages and disadvantages of allowing chickens to roam in the yard. Not yet in use with the young chickens were ramps, hanging water dispensers, bully boxes, ramps, and shade structures. Along with the man-made shade structures were natural shade structures of cattails running down the center.
The culmination of the trip was the experience of holding baby chickens- these particular chicks were a mere two days old, still bearing the pink streaks of the tinted spray vaccine they received before arriving.
The class, joined by Ms. Cartanza, didn’t leave Dover before stopping for lunch at Chik-fil-A- paid for by the Professor. We parted ways with our host after lunch to return to the Newark campus.
The Newark class section would see Ms. Cartanza again, albeit remotely, for Monday’s first class guest lecture.
Graced by Ms. CARTANZA’s presence yet again, she both repeated and elaborated on some of the finer points she had made on the field trip.
Having had extensive experience in the poultry industry as a field supervisor, waking up anywhere from 4-7am and working 50 hours a week minimum, to working as an employee at Mountaire teaching people how to build two times bigger, better chicken houses, Ms. Cartanza still had a wealth of knowledge to impart.
Working as an organic poultry contract farmer, for Perdue’s organic Division Coleman, Ms. Cartanza shared some of the logistic and political issues surrounding the operation of her farm and organic poultry farms in general.
Because contract farmers compete for their contracts with different companies, growing their chicken competitively. Ms. Cartanza’s in a smaller 20acre farm, one of many strewn about the state and the peninsula, but with ¼ of the U.S. population within eight hours of her location, she maintains an edge on the competition. Delaware is not the leader in broiler production, but it does have the most broilers per square mile, with the largest organic processing plant in the country.
The poultry not only has to generate income for the company, but also pay for the capital involved in producing it- the cost of four chicken houses is much more expensive that the land they’re placed on, coming in at over $1.5mil whereas the acreage was just $20, 000. The biggest expense Ms. Cartanza said she faced after chicken feed was her mortgage and electric.
She, as a Nuffield scholar having spent time in Brazil as well as Mexico, Cornell, Ireland, & France, had not just a local Delmarva or U.S. perspective on poultry farming, but a global one.
Ms. Cartanza said a lot of the expenses and adjustments she must make around her farm don’t necessarily come from government agencies as a result of scientific study, but from the uniformed masses and their personal feelings on what makes chickens, ‘happy’.
For example, Ms. Cartanza said she has a manual composter that’s worth $12, 000 and is capable of processing 1.5 flocks, while her Canada-made EcoDrum, with it’s inverse-composting can process 5 flocks with less time and effort from the farmer. The new equipment isn’t really necessary, but it looked good to environmentalists. Chickens purportedly need 4-8hrs of darkness for melatonin production, but that may not actually help the birds at all.
Another example would be the way chicken houses have been restructured over the years. Ms. Cartanza pointed out while we were at her farm, that the window sizes on the building had to be upped due to evolving public sentiment around the amount of light chickens require to be, ‘happy’, but not necessarily healthier. The larger windows decrease the R-value of the overall house, while the transition from curtain-sided to solid-sidewall houses increase the R-value.
Outside the houses, in the pasture area, Ms. Cartanza must provide shade-areas, buffers, and enrichments that can take the form of patches of warm season grasses, like cattails and miscanthus, trees, like hybrid willows, and toys, like ‘bully boxes’ and ramps. Some of these additions, like the buffers, can help remove harmful particulates from the air, appeasing nearby neighbors, but the grasses can also add to the difficult of managing the chickens environment, creating dense growth that chickens can hide and be lost to the farmer in.
Once the 2-day-old chicks we interacted with reach three weeks old, they will have the option to go outside the chicken house. Allowing chickens to go outside makes them more at risk for predation and contamination from other birds and their droppings in the pasture that could carry Avian Flu virus. The chickens will instinctively stay inside at high noon when they are most visible from overhead, but they also seem to be most comfortable in the artificial, but regulated environment of the houses. The houses are kept at 92degrees F° via large tunnel ventilators that suck out the 8btus of heat that each chicken produces and also blows cool air through the chicken houses, protecting the birds from heat exhaustion by extracting body heat
The organic process also has restrictions on how it maintains the physical health and the environment of the chickens. Ms. Cartanza is permitted to use substances such as oregano, apple cider vinegar, copper sulfate, boric acid, and liquefied citric acid to care for the chickens.
Technology allows Ms. Cartanza to care for 37, 000 chickens more or less independently, but years ago that would have been impossible. That relative ease allows Ms. Cartanza to theoretically fed 780, 000 families from the output of her farm.
People who don’t like the poultry industry might be hard-pressed to find fault with the jobs it creates or how it helps the local economy- for every 1 jobs in poultry, 7 are created in the wider community. Labels in marketing are also used to sway public opinion- ABF or ‘Antibiotic Free’ chickens applies to any U.S. chicken, as the chickens must be cut off of any antibiotics 2 weeks before processing; NAE or ‘No Antibiotics Ever’ sounds good in theory and may appease animal welfare groups, but allowing chickens to potentially suffer for the sake of the label is debatable; and Organic chicken means a chicken is free-range and feed only GMO free feed from organic certified ground, which means additional organic corn and soybeans must be sourced from foreign countries like Argentina and Turkey, increasing the carbon footprint of the organic. The Global Animal Partnership (GAP), a coalition of vegetarians formed by Whole Foods that can threaten chain restaurants and businesses that don’t sell the type of meat they sign-off on, and other political figures with specifics leanings
Genetics, nutrition, housing, and technology have contributed to increasingly larger chickens. In 1957 chickens took 56 days to grow 2lbs,- today a modern chicken can reach 9lbs in the same amount of time. No steroids used- selective breeding makes larger chickens. Maturing in about 20 days, they are able to evolve faster.
Ms. Cartanza stresses the importance of environmental stewardship, saying poultry farmers don’t want their farms to be unhealthy or toxic places- they raise their families on the farm. They also don’t want suffering or dying birds- lost birds means a loss of money. At the sound of an alarm, a farmer may have to wake up very early, climb a grain bin, run to restore power, or confront a predator or pest- they may have as little as 20minutes to save a flock in the wake of natural disaster of power failure. She mentioned CO2stunning used in a Milford poultry plant to put chickens to sleep before processing- must be alive to process.
Ms. Cartanza says the next big issue facing poultry farmers after the nutrient pollution of waterways will be air quality, though the sustainably of poultry farming itself, whether from an economic or environmental standpoint will be debated as well. A big part of farming in general is the effect it has on the environment. Farmers can be easy targets, when only 2% of the U.S. voters farm and of that number most face more strict regulations on how they farm than a golf course owner or someone with a residential property applying a myriad of various chemicals to their properties.
For Ms. Cartanza herself and her farm, her next big challenge might just be eliminating some of her power costs, one of her biggest expenses as previously mentioned, at $5, 000 a month. With a housing unit for an off-grid 20,000V power generator, Ms. Cartanza may consider going solar next. A solar power system would take 15 years to pay off an might last for 25-35years. A part of the farming process is weigh risks, and Ms. Cartanza deemed the risk too great.
Regardless of an individuals approach to poultry farming, or working in general, Ms. Cartanza reminds the class of the importance of maintaining humility and, ‘doing little things well’. She also reiterates the importance of vetting the news and the science and not discounting another person’s views. Even though she grows organic, she did it to follow the market and industry’s trajectory towards increasingly organic foods. Ms. Cartanza did say she will buy and eat conventional chicken and has noticed no difference in quality. She also states it is impossible to feed the world organically- in 2050, 9bilion people are projected to inhabit the world.
Overall, I enjoyed the trip and the lecture. Some memorable events include:
One chick slated to be euthanized later by ethical/humane cervical dislocation, i.e., ‘wringing it’s neck’, possibly due to an error in the in-egg fertilization process where a needle is placed through the egg shell 3days before the chicks birth which may have caused ‘Star-gaze syndrome’, piercing the birds’ spinal cord
Holding a 2 day old chick in my bare hands that could barely stay awake
Learning that, contrary to what I had read previously, chickens are still caught by hand and live-hungèmachines were not as successful as hoped
Perdue tried for 1yr, but the results still were not as good as the 7man team that can take up to 4 6.5lb birds in each hand & can earn up to $30,00 a year catching poultry 6days a weekèEurope is often a few years ahead of the U.S. as far as tech
The Chik-fil-A lunch that followed where I saw a WW2 vet
On Saturday, September 7th I took a field trip to a poultry farm. It was interesting to see how these farms operate and the different technologies used up close and in person. One of these technologies was a large composting machine. This machine was a large tube-like structure where composting materials could be placed inside and then easily rotated for an efficient composting process. I also got to see what was happening inside the chicken houses. There were fans, vents, windows, and heaters all placed throughout and controlled through the main system to keep the temperature of both the chicken house and the chickens consistent and healthy. While there I also learned about the sacrifices and changes that need to be made in order to be considered an organic poultry farm. These sacrifices such as the avoidance of using antibiotics make poultry farming more expensive and more difficult for the farmers, however, consumers are pushing for these changes as they are perceived as more humane and healthier for the chickens. It was a lot of fun to be able to see where some of the food I eat actually comes from in person.
This field trip in the poultry farm was fascinating. I am glad to learn many new things about that not only the agriculture, but also the future career and life. It is a rare chance to engage this kind of activities. Mrs. Georgie Cortanza run this organic poultry farm well. And she explained what organic chicken mean is. The chicken has to had players, an opportunity to access to the outdoors and enjoy the natural light which means that install windows in the chicken house, a big chicken house, be fed organic food, and not be fed any growth hormones or antibiotics. Consumers claimed those factors that can make chicken become a “happy” and “healthy” chicken and it is humanity. But the thing is that when chicken can enjoy outdoor time and no antibiotics, the chance to get sick may increase, when they enjoy natural light, they will be more active, then they will have more movement, then they will lose weight. We don’t know if chicken is happy or not. Like the Mrs. Cortanza said, when you focus on a side, you gonna lose other side. It depends. That is what I learn in today.
Georgie Cartanza owns and runs an organic chicken farm here in Delaware. In her 4, 65’ wide and 600’ long chicken houses, she can have up to 148,000 chickens at once, which can feed about 59,808 people a year! Being in the state of Delaware means that her farm is very close to a huge percentage of the American population, meaning the cost of transporting the chickens is much lower than in other places in the country, and the meat is fresher. Less transportation means less fuel which also keeps the carbon footprint of the birds lower.
But how does she raise these chickens? What makes them organic? A huge help in keeping the chickens healthy and comfortable is the technology she has on her farm. Large control panels keep tabs on everything that is happening, from the humidity to the temperature in each house. From these panels Georgie can adjust the temperature and humidity with ease. Her organic chickens must be fed GMO free, organic feed and must have access to the outdoors, which also must be organically certified. Her chicken houses have windows to allow in natural light and she must have the proper documentation to certify her chickens as organic.
I was excited to go to Georgie Cartanza’s farm. I’ve only seen the inside of a chicken house on the internet. A few summers ago I worked at the camp for the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture & Food. The campers were allowed to hold a chicken if they wanted to. They lived in chicken coops out in the fields. The campers were allowed to run around with the chickens without having any sort of protective gear on. I was caught off guard a bit when we were required to wear the suits. Once I heard the reason was because it was to protect the chicken from any diseases we could bring in, I understood why it was a good precaution.
I learned that her poultry farm creates one ton of manure per 1,000 chickens, per flock (4 and a half flocks a year.) Considering there are so many poultry farms around the U.S. I became curious about what they did with all that manure. Specifically, Ms. Cartanza sells her manure to a nearby dairy farm that uses it for nutrient management. I’m glad she gave the advice now, while I’m still in college, to take some business classes as she has realized how important it is to at least have a basic understanding of business.
Georgie Cartanza, an organic poultry farmer in Kent County, DE. Georgie has four 65’x500 chicken houses, each can hold up to 37,000 chickens, totaling up to 148,000 chickens on her farm during a single flock. Georgie produces over 5 million pounds of organic broilers each year by growing 5 and a half flocks per year. Chicken houses have advanced technology built within allowing farmers to control the optimal environment for the chickens during all stages of growth. Chickens themselves produce a lot of heat so the cooling system within the houses is important in keeping the chickens happy and healthy. For example, Gorgie’s houses cooling system can cycle the air in under a minute. Aside from the organic feed requirements, some of the organic requirements are to have enrichments within and outside of the house and to have outdoor access. Enrichments can be as simple as ramps and boxes.
So you may be thinking how does Georgie produce 5 Million pounds of broiler meat each year?
Well, that’s due to the advancements and improvements in technology, genetics, housing, and nutrition. No hormones and no steroids. Applicable to both organic and commercial poultry farming.
Also, what is done with all the manure generated?
Each year, 5 and a half flocks generate 4 million pounds of manure per year. That is about 1 ton per 1,000 chickens per flock. Then a nutrient-packed compost is made with the manure and mortality. That is then sold to a local dairy farmer as a fertilizer. The manure is improving the soil health and structure by providing vital macro and micronutrients to the soil.
Listening to Georgie Cartanza guest lecture in class on the Delaware poultry industry as well as her poultry farm was very informative. She touched on many different topics ranging from how Delaware became such a powerhouse for the poultry industry, specifically broilers, to how this industry has made many advancements over the years. I was very surprised as to how much the Delmarva actually produces each year, compared to the national annual production. Georgie also then touched on some of the hardships with being in the poultry industry, including the wide misconception that as farmers we pump our flocks full of all sorts of chemicals and steroids. This was something I was not surprised to hear. Coming from a farming family, I am very familiar with the poultry industry as we too raise organic broilers as a part of our business. I can very much relate with the frustration of this misconception. However, like Georgie I can also relate to the instinctive need to educate consumers as to what we actually do as producers. Georgie offered great advice as to how to accomplish this, and how to connect to your consumers. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Georgie guest lecture.
Our visit to Georgie Cartanza’s organic poultry farm helped to dispel for me some myths about the poultry business. After visiting her farm, I described the size of the chicken houses and the amount of chickens to some of my friends and asked them how many people they thought worked on the farm. Everyone was shocked to hear there were only two other employees. The ability to control feed, water, and temperature through the use of technology was very impressive. I also noticed there did not seem to be any strong odor emanating from the chicken house. Documentaries can often portray the business in a negative light; I will admit I thought these bigger birds had to have been injected with growth hormones which is simply not true. Rather, the improvements in diet, technology, and selective breeding enable farmers like Georgie to produce more meat with fewer birds.
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to tour an organic poultry operation and to learn all about the ins and outs of it. Georgie Cartanza, the owner and operator of this organic poultry farm, was full of not only knowledge about the industry, but as well as wisdom that I will hold onto as I go throughout my life. I found this field trip especially valuable since I was able to apply what I have learned about the poultry industry, its management and the ever-changing market demands to a real life operation. Georgie explained to us that being an organic farm is a lot more work to keep up to standards as well as costs. The average cost of organic feed is 3x the amount of conventional chicken feed – she attributed this to the fact that organic feed has to be shipped to the United States from other countries due to the lack of profitability for farmers to grow organic feed in the states. Georgie also mentioned that with the ever-changing consumer and market, in a few years, she will have to implement more windows, more shade cloths and more enrichments to each house to satisfy the “organic” standards put in place. The poultry industry is always changing and advancing as technology increases and I’m excited to see where it shifts next. This field trip was a great learning experience and I throughly got a lot out of it. Ms. Cartanza is a very knowledgable woman and I hope I get to encounter with her again.
Although I was unable to attend this field trip, hearing the lecture and observing a classmates notes gave me insight into this industry. Learning the background of this industry was very interesting, especially how it all originated from a mess up in an order bringing 10X the amount of chickens was so facilitating to hear. The most fascinating part of this was learning more about organic chicken. Personally , I always would buy organic chicken because I thought it was better for me as a consumer, as well as the welfare of that chicken. But after hearing from someone who has been in this industry for over 10 years really opened my eyes to some of the misconception. The main thing that stuck out for me was how in order to be classified as organic, they need to allow the chickens access outside. At first, this thought seemed great to me and that it really would be a benefit to the animal. But after hearing how few chickens on Ms. Georgie’s own farm actually go outside, I started thinking differently. Also, these chickens are not allowed to receive antibiotics. So when they are sick and medically require antibiotics, they are not allowed to get them. Even if this doesn’t result in a death, to me, not administering these needed drugs is inhumane. Lastly, another thing that surprised me is how the “wellness” of the chicken is determined by the chicken paw and how that is the most expensive part of the chicken. Overall I enjoyed learning more about this industry and intend to do more research to distinguish my knowledge from the previous misconceptions I may have had.