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Townsend BOH approves proposed chicken processing facility

Townsend BOH approves proposed chicken processing facility
Townsend BOH approves proposed chicken processing facility
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TOWNSEND — Shepherd’s Farm is no stranger to poultry processing but as some prospects have dried up, the farm has decided it needs to expand in order to stay competitive.

On Oct. 29, Shepherd’s Farm came before the Board of Health seeking approval for a proposed poultry processing plant at 3 Wheeler Road. Despite concerns being raised over the environmental impact, smell, treatment of animals and traffic, the Board of Health unanimously approved the plan — with some added stipulations.

Included in the stipulations is should there be a specific nuisance complaint with odors or outside animals other than what the farm is harvesting, the Board of Health would be permitted to conduct an inspection. The board also wants to approve waste tanks for where the drains are located for the draining of scalding and clean water, as well as having the ability to inspect those.

The Board of Health also requested clarification on a waste hauler permit for byproducts coming out of the building and where they would be shipped, or put in the ground, or if they are going to be composted. The board also requested Shepherd’s Farm provide a specific composting location, which would include a vegetative buffer.

Additionally, the board stipulated Shepherd’s provide a basic manure management plan including composting management practices. Farm manager Andrew Shepherd did not raise objection to any of the board’s conditions.

Owner Gary Shepherd said the plant would have the capacity to process 20,000 birds a year. Included in the total capacity could be an estimated 500 chickens per week from April and October. Additionally, it could include 3,000 to 4,000 turkeys in a year.

However, Shepherd stated several times during the course of the public hearing his desire was to remain under 20,000.

“We do not expect nor desire to be anywhere as close to that number. That’s a pretty involved volume,” Shepherd said.

Under Massachusetts law, Shepherd’s operations would be curtailed at 20,000. However, if he sought a federal stamp from the Department of Agriculture, he would have the ability to increase his capacity. Tyson and Perdue are able to process 12,000 chickens an hour.

While Shepherd said he was interested in seeking a federal stamp, he also said it would not be to increase capacity.

“Let’s just say that Whole Foods gives us a call and says ‘we would like to have 1,000 local Massachusetts turkeys to be able to sell in our stores or X location,’ we can’t sell without that stamp. So that would be really (important) and it raises our level of sanitation as well,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd said his family owns five farms in Townsend, with about 400 acres of land. Nearly 700 acres is “currently under production” in New York as well. Although the company considered all of the sites, the location on Wheeler Road is believed to be the best choice.

“We looked at this and we felt that this was the most appropriate location close to a major road, three-phase power and town water,” Shepherd said.

However, Shepherd said they are currently unable to give their birds town water because of the levels of PFAS. To quell contamination, the farm will add a filtration system to the building to be able to wash the birds and still meet state standards.

Board of Health member Gavin Byars said he was not concerned about materials from the proposed facility leaching into the abutting Willard Brook, stating it would take extreme circumstances in order for that to happen. Byars recently conducted a site walk with Nashoba Sanitarian Rick Metcalf and Health Administrator Carla Hitzenbuhler.

Blood from the operation will be taken to a site in New York. Water used in the scalding process will be reused to irrigate the fields and Shepherd said it will be kept away from the abutting Willard Brook. Additionally, the farm is looking into a machine to grind down feathers so they can be used for compost. They do not anticipate any smell or attraction of unwanted wildlife as a result.

The hours of operation are expected to be limited, with Shepherd estimating they will only be working on poultry processing one to two hours a day.

“We’re not looking at an around-the-clock operation,” Shepherd said.

Additionally, Shepherd stated there would be minimal to no traffic impact on Route 119, despite the concern being raised. He stated there was a possibility for trucks to be passing through on the weekends. The birds will not be raised on-site, but instead will be brought in via truck.