NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - It's a cold, hard fact in the farming and ranching business there will be animals that die.
For poultry growers, a check for poultry mortalities is made at least once a day. What to do with dead chickens has been improved at the Stephen F. Austin State University Poultry Research Center.
A partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board led to SFA receiving the composter. Since its installation in January, two Nacogdoches County growers have purchased units.
At the SFA Poultry Research Center, hundreds of thousands of chickens are grown. Since January, the ones that die before their time end up in this apparatus, an in-vessel composter.
"So this is where we would load it in" said Dr. Joey Bray, an assistant professor and director of poultry science at SFA. "We would add our equal parts of carbon source. Our carbon source is just flaked wood shavings."
The carbon to nitrogen ratio creates the perfect environment for bacteria needed to break down the bird naturally.
"And you can even see the steam coming out of it now," Bray said.
On a timed schedule, the composter barrels tumble so slow the movement can barely be seen.
"I know it takes roughly about 15 minutes for it to turn one rotation," Bray said.
It's still fast enough to speed up the overall process.
"Instead of taking a couple of months to decompose the bird we can do it in about 18 days," Bray said.
This Canadian model being tested out at SFA has a unique air intake feature ensuring an aerobic process.
"So therefore that order is not as pungent," Bray said.
And that's the clincher. The odor complaints are common as urban areas encroach on poultry farms. SFA researchers are learning the in-vessel composter is a good alternative to stinkier incineration and other composting methods.
The end product is low in nutrients, something closely regulated. The clean product is safe enough for landscape and waterways.
"It's shown negative for all coliform bacteria," Bray said.
The in-vessel composter costs initially about $32,000, but operational savings recoup the expense. Plus, cost share incentives are offered by regulators looking for cleaner and less smelly ways of composting poultry mortalities.
A partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board led to SFA receiving the composter. Since its installation in January two Nacogdoches County growers have purchased units.