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Eggs and weed on Saguache County's plate

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 2nd, 2013

Courier staff writer

SAGUACHE — Chickens and marijuana could spur the Saguache County economy should its commissioners find organic eggs and joints beneficial later this month.

After Rio Grande County tabled a similar application last week, the Saguache County Planning Commission (SCPC) recommended David and Candace Toews’ and Royce and Tamara Nickel’s conditional use applications for organic egg production operation last Thursday evening. According to the Saguache County Land Use Department (SCLUD), the applications were recommended with conditions including annual reviews and a comprehensive sketch of the proposed operation. Discussion also addressed limits on producing hens.

No one spoke out against the proposed operation, but local organic farmer Tom McCraken, who was at the meeting for other land use reasons, shared his experiences with chickens and egg production, and wished the applicants good luck.

The long time Valley farmers submitted conditional use permits to produce eggs for the Wisconsin-based Organic Valley Co-op last month. The couples were introduced to the Organic Valley Co-op in 2012 and “after careful consideration and due diligence feel that the opportunity to produce eggs for them here in the San Luis Valley would be an excellent opportunity for the small ‘family farm’.”

The farm would be a phased build out of 10,000 Bovan Brown hens, requiring 1.75 square-feet per bird with an additional five square-feet per bird of outdoor access, according to the Saguache County permit application. Plans include a 17,500 square-feet barn with an additional 1.15-acre pasture area, brining the total barn and pasture footprint to approximately 1.55 acres located at Saguache County Road 43 and E.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (USDA) will certify the hen housing and pasture, and it will also meet Organic Valley Co-op specifications, according to the Saguache County permit application. The hens will not be confined to cages, but rather allowed to “free range” inside the barn and outdoors in the pasture comprised of native grasses and alfalfa. During the winter, the hens will only have access to the pasture if weather is conducive, but will have access to natural light due to required barn windows.

The flock will eat certified organic feed, which a semi-truck will deliver from outside of the state, according to the Saguache County permit application. The 10,000 hens should consume 480 gallons of water per day compared to 45 beef cows consuming 525 gallons per day. Total water use would be less than 1.75 to 2 acre-feet annually.

Organic Valley Co-op will market the eggs, according to the Saguache County permit application. The company has an established Denver and Front Range market. Once a week, the company will have a refrigerated truck pick up the eggs and deliver the product to its Denver location. There, the eggs will be processed, graded, washed and packaged for delivery to grocery stores. A small amount of eggs might be rejected due to extra large size, which could be sold at local Valley markets.

Chicken manure, which is considered a valuable chicken by-product, will be collected and transported to a compost area, according to the Saguache County permit application. Hen manure is high in nitrogen and will be used as organic fertilizer on Valley farmland.

“I, together with my family, are enthused about this opportunity and we see it as a long term and sustainable method to provide income here in Saguache County, as well as the rest of the San Luis Valley thru the agricultural way of life that we all so much appreciate,” wrote the Toews’ and the Nickels in their application. “...I invite you to share in the enthusiasm needed to provide new ideas and energy to implement them for the enjoyment of us all.”

Last week, the Rio Grande County Commissioners tabled Del Norte resident Merlin Yost’s conditional use application for 30 days to learn more about the egg production business after hearing an array of public concerns including conventional/organic farming conflicts, pollution and health and safety.

The Saguache County Commissioners will consider the Toews’ and Nickel’s permit on April 16.

The RGCC will make a decision on the Yost permit Wednesday, April 25 at 11:15 a.m.

Marijuana money

The SCPC also recommended the Saguache County Commissioners approve retail marijuana sales in the county because it is an opportunity to garner tax dollars, according to the SCLUD.

The Saguache County Commissioners will address the matter during the April 16 meeting.

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