Buckeye Egg Farm’s sale of northern barns gets preliminary OK

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SALEM, Ohio – Barns continue to empty at Buckeye Egg Farm, but prospective owners Orland Bethel and Don Hershey are one step closer to purchasing the poultry powerhouse.

A month ago, the Ohio Department of Agriculture gave a preliminary thumbs-up for the two men, whose business is known as Ohio Fresh Eggs, to take over operations in Licking County.

Last week, the team got the same type of clearance for the farm’s barns in northwestern Ohio.

The specifics. The draft permits to operate are for the Mount Victory Egg Farm and Goshen Pullet Farm, located in Hardin County, and the Marseilles Egg Farm, located in Wyandot County.

The two layer sites have a total of 30 barns with 5.3 million birds.

The Goshen Pullet Farm has 10 barns with 1.97 million pullets.

The draft permits to operate include plans for manure management, insect and rodent control, mortality management, and emergency response.

Layer farms. There are 14 barns at the Mount Victory Egg Farm and 16 barns at the Marseilles Egg Farm. All barns measure 660 feet long by 68 feet wide, according to a department of agriculture fact sheet.

All barns are high-rise, with stacked birdcages upstairs and manure stored downstairs.

Aeration fans installed in the manure pits, or “pit fans,” are used in two out of four rows in each barn.

Pullet farm. There are 10 barns at the Ohio Fresh Egg’s Goshen Pullet Farm. All barns measure 506 feet long by 68 feet wide.

The pullets come from the Croton Hatchery as day-old chicks and are kept at the Goshen Pullet Farm until they are 18 weeks old.

At 18 weeks, they are transferred to the Mount Victory or Marseilles egg farms.

Planning stage. According to filed permits, all of the solid manure generated at the facilities would be sold to local farmers and land applied by contract applicators.

The sites also generate approximately 16 million gallons a year of eggwash and stormwater, which would be primarily disposed through center pivot irrigation and dragline irrigation to other land, according to permits.

Ohio Fresh Eggs would be required to keep land application records for all wastewater and land-applied manure.

In addition, anyone spreading more than 4,500 dry tons of manure per year through farm contracts must become a certified livestock manager through the department of agriculture.

Insect control. As part of the farm’s insect and rodent control plan, Ohio Fresh Eggs plans to install more pit fans in barns at all three northern farms by Dec. 1, 2004, according to permits.

The pit fans circulate air around manure and help the drying process.

Flies and fly larvae will be monitored daily.

Not permanent. Deborah Abbott, spokesperson for the department of agriculture’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, said the draft permits are just drafts.

“This does not mean they are allowed to operate, this doesn’t give them authority. The draft permits are merely out for public comment,” Abbott said.

And public comment is important.

“Folks can influence the permit before it’s final,” Abbott said, noting one instance where public comments helped one town have provisions written into a farm’s permits to protect the town from odor during manure transport.

“The final can be different from the draft,” she stressed.

Abbott said the final permit decision should be made by late January or early February for the northern facilities.

The department’s decision on the Croton facilities should come by the end of this month, she said.

Barns shut down. Barns began closing at the Marseilles facility Nov. 20 in compliance with an order from state agriculture director Fred Dailey.

According to a statement issued by Buckeye Egg that day, hens were removed from two barns and sent to a rendering facility or to other Buckeye Egg production facilities at Mount Victory.

The Marseilles facility already has four barns completely emptied. Each housed 176,000 chickens, according to manager of operations Bill Leininger.

By press time, Buckeye Egg will have emptied a total of six barns.

“As we have been for the last year, we’re doing everything we’re supposed to do,” Leininger said.

Not new. Bethel and Hershey aren’t strangers to the egg industry, or even Buckeye Egg itself.

Ohio Fresh Eggs is owned and operated by Ohio Ag Investors LLC, which is owned by Don Hershey, and by Hillandale Farms LLC, which is owned by Orland Bethel.

Hershey is currently a manager at Buckeye Egg, but his connections don’t stop there.

Buckeye Egg started as Croton Egg Farm when German businessman Anton Pohlmann purchased 2,200 acres of farmland near Croton in early 1980.

Pohlmann leased the facilities to Don Hershey and business partner Richard McGrath. Together, the two men formed Croton Egg Farms in 1981.

McGrath and two other investors, under the name AgriGeneral Company, bought out Hershey in 1992.

In October 1993, Pohlmann bought out AgriGeneral Company and formed Buckeye Egg Farm.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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