The Chicken Shit in Your Neighborhood

Like Mark Bittman, I have rather obsessively been playing with this interactive map, showing where all the factory farms are in this country, broken out by county. In my case, the interest is personal. I moved from the hippie-Ag area around Ann Arbor, MI, to west MI, where much of the bigger Ag is located (the biggest skyscraper in the area is a soy processing plant). I’ve driven a lot in the backroads around here and seen lots of blueberry plantations, some diverse crop farms, and the long sheds housing some kind of unhappy  industrially raised animals. This map provides a census of those unhappy animals.

I learned, for example, that there are 2.6 million egg-laying hens in the county, second only in the state to Allegan County, just south of here, which has 3.6 million layers.

It’s overcast today. Which means when I walked the dog in the beautiful snowy day, the smell of chickenshit (from the farms some distance to the east) hung in the air. It’s the first I noticed it so close to town, though there’s one gorgeous park where the adjoining chickenshit farm (which is upriver of town) makes the park pretty unusable.

Anyway, have “fun” with the map (and related factoids). Let us know in comments what kind of shit farm you’re living downriver from!

  1. beguiner says:

    I live in Evanston, IL. There are no factory farms in Cook County. I’m an avid swimmer (and kayaker) in Lake Michigan. I know that my state is guilty as hell regarding the potential introduction of Asian Carp, through the Chicago waterway system. Wisconsin’s wastewater treatment plants on the Lake are old and inefficient. Meanwhile, there was an 800,000 gallon oil spill into the Kalamazoo River last summer. I’m not sure how much (or if any) made it to Lake Michigan.

    The fresh water in the Great Lakes is among the most precious resources on the planet. But there are many many threats to Lake Michigan: human poopies, chicken poopies, invasive species, decommissioned nuclear reactors (Zion in IL), operating nuclear reactors (Palasaides and Cook in Michigan), etc.

    Currently, my biggest fear is that Rahm gets elected as mayor of Chicago and promptly privatizes the water system (like a crack addict hocking the VCR).

  2. Arbusto says:

    My sympathies. I remember flying to Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico in 1971. While overhead and checking out the airport I noticed a long building next to the runway but thought nothing of it since there was no cross wind. Just as I was flaring to land the plane, I inhaled the worst smell I’d experienced. I was shocked, almost retched, but recovered enough to make a good landing. Of course it was a chicken farm. Yuk!

    Now, in my dotage, I live in Galt, CA, surrounded by family owned Dairies. Nothing like the smell of cow pie mixed with pee after a rain. Ah the life.

    • emptywheel says:

      We’ve got our share of cows in the neighborhood, too, though mostly in manageable lots (as in, “hey, they’re missing one of their cows in that field).

      Besides, unconcentrated cow poop doesn’t smell like highly concentrated chicken shit.

  3. JTMinIA says:

    In my case (Iowa City) it’s more hog shit than chicken shit, but what many people don’t seem to understand is how the recent floods have caused such grief. The floods “rinsed” many of the farms up-river from Coralville Lake, which is a huge man-made flood-control reservoir just north of Iowa City. This rinsing also cleaned out the manure-storage ponds. The problem for us is that the outflow from Coralville Lake is nowhere near the bottom of the lake. So we now have an even higher concentration of crap – literally – at the bottom of the lake than before.

    The lake is about a quarter mile from my house. Hard to explain to a six-year-old why we drive a long way to go swimming when there’s a lake up the street. Ah, well. Just give him another piece of inexpensive bacon at breakfast to make up for it.

  4. BoxTurtle says:

    Supposedly,I’m in a high density area. Frankly, if this is high density it’s not a problem. No animal odors, excess flies or any such. This basically a farmng ara, with the small town surrounded by farms of various sizes. No factory farms that I’m aware of.

    We have GREAT farmer markets in this area, and I buy my eggs from the backdoor of a neighboring farmer. Laid this morning brown eggs, in fact. :-)

    Boxturtle (There’s another fellow who ranches ostriches. I recommend the eggs highly!)

    • emptywheel says:

      Well in our case, the chicken shit really is all concentrated at what I believe to be a huge farm (the one by the unusuable park), and a much smaller, less offensive one just three miles up the road. So you don’t see it that much, unless you go to that park of have an overcast day like today.

  5. bobschacht says:

    One thing you may want to include in your investigation of these things is von Thunen’s
    locational analysis from geographical theory

    Starting with your interactive maps, note that the dark red often clusters around major urban centers. For example, I live in Arizona, and the darkest red is around metropolitan Phoenix. Other things being equal, if you have a million customers in one place, you want to locate as close to that place as you can, so the transportation costs of your product are minimized.

    Sometimes, however, the map doesn’t show what this theory predicts. For example, the largest city in Wisconsin, Milwaukee, is in a county that is not red. And in your state, Detroit is not-red. These counties may be zoned so that property per acre is too expensive for raising animals, or legally restricted (because people don’t like the smell or the noise). These exceptions form interesting cases to investigate, in themselves.

    Your county (Allegan?) happens to be located between Grand Rapids, the second largest city in Michigan, and Kalamazoo, both of which border on your county. Hence, your county is a service area for both cities, and that’s why it is red on the map.

    Another deviation from the classic theory is interesting: Iowa has an unusual concentration of dark red counties on your maps, even though most of those counties are rural. Virtually every county in the northern 2/3rds of Iowa is dark red. This may be that these counties offer optimal conditions for factory livestock farms. Regarding the classic theory, with factory livestock farms, you have to factor in the cost of food for the animals, and Iowa is optimal for shortening the distance between livestock and their feed.

    Classic Chicago economics also illustrate this: the 19th century way of dealing with these issues is that you raise the animals on the farms, then you send them to stock yards near the big cities (Ft. Worth; Denver; Chicago).

    One more side to the livestock farms that form the bulk of your map’s red counties. And that is, what do you do with the sh*t? (viz., [email protected]) This is a major issue with hog farms for some reason, but also has to be dealt with on dairy farms and chicken factories. In any case, the excess excrement constitutes a major environmental problem. Maybe it is more of a problem near urban centers, where more people are affected, than it is in rural Iowa.

    Bob in AZ

    • emptywheel says:

      I think your urban argument doesn’t hold up. Or rather, it misreads what counts as urban. These are cities, but for industrially stewarded animals. Phoenix may be different because it has water. But most of the dark red spots are rural, as far as I can see.

      Also note, I think it too easy to say Ottawa and Allegan service GR and Kzoo. If anything they’d feed into Chicago. But we’re also talking Big Ag, here. So national, and possibly international, distribution. And some of it may well go through Chicago, not GR.

    • qweryous says:

      Well the shit that washes away does end up somewhere.

      The largest and best documented place in US waters is the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

      Another notable instance of what JTMinIA refers to happened in 1999 when Hurricane Dennis was followed by Hurricane Floyd.

      There is a surprising correlation between the red areas for animal poop with red areas wrt voting patterns. Cause? Effect?

  6. JTMinIA says:

    On the correlation between red and red….

    Cedar Rapids is much less liberal than Iowa City. In their brilliance, Cedar Rapids built its main sewage treatment plant just up-river from the city, while our main treatment plant is down-river. During the big flood, both treatment plants were flooded and started dumping raw sewage. So, while Iowa City was OK (other than all the water), the people who jokingly said that they had to wade through shit to get to their building in Cedar Rapids were being literal.