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Paynesville Press - August 6, 2003

Recent heat causes local poultry deaths locally

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

High temperatures and humidity led to the death of over 8,000 chickens at a local farm last weekend.

On the morning of Saturday, July 26, Kevin Peltz - who raises chickens for Gold'n Plump on his Zion Township farm - went to his barn to do chores and found that almost 700 birds had died overnight. Through the course of the day, another 7,800 died from the heat, he said, many of them before noon.

Peltz receives chickens from Gold'n Plump as hatchlings and raises them for 44 to 48 days when they are returned to the company for processing. His 24,000 sq. ft. barn holds 50,000 chickens.

Chickens are prone to heat stress, especially during the last week they are in the barn, said Peltz. The chickens that died on the Peltz farm were almost finished and were due to be shipped out the next week.

According to Bill Lanners of Gold'n Plump, heat loss is not unusual, but the large number of chickens lost last weekend is. Although the exact number of heat casualties is unavailable, Peltz estimates that as many as 100,000 chickens were lost in barns from Paynesville to Freeport.

Chickens are in danger when temperatures reach the 90s and the dew point is over 70. Last Saturday saw temperatures reach 91 degrees with a 76-degree dew point, said Lanners.

Producers take precautions to minimize heat loss, said Lanners. Barns are ventilated and when temperatures rise, farmers encourage the birds to move about so air can circulate around them and to drink plenty of water with electrolytes.

Even though Peltz was running barn fans and was walking the birds, his efforts weren't enough to save all of the birds.

In the end, the only thing he could do was remove the dead chickens to and compost them.

Peltz started raising chickens for Gold'n Plump in 1989. He's lost birds to heat before, but he's never lost so many at one time and he's never had them die from the heat so early in the day. According to Lanners, during a typical summer, growers lose an average of 500 to 1,000 chickens to heat.

Gold'n Plump is in the process of improving the ventilation systems in all of its barns, said Lanners. Evaporative cooling systems that can cool the air seven to ten degrees are being installed in the barns, but because it is a costly project, it could be some time until the units are installed in all barns.

Peltz will continue to raise chickens for Gold'n Plump. He should get the next shipment of chicks sometime this week. Although he didn't suffer a direct financial hit from the the lost chickens, he will lose a production bonus because of the dead birds.

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