The farm in Delmar where April Ferrell grew up and still lives is surrounded by chicken farms.
Sitting on a golf cart in her yard, Ferrell indicated the lot next door, where she said her parents built two small chicken houses in the 1980s. Then she pointed in the other direction, across the street, where four newer, 600-foot-long chicken houses were visible.
According to data from the Maryland Department of the Environment, that farm across the street — what’s known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO — has about 47,000 chickens at a time.
All those chickens produce a lot of manure — and a lot of smells.
“Sometimes it is noxious, makes you feel a little sick to your stomach,” Ferrell said of the smell. “Earlier when I was out here my eyes were burning, just from the smell. I don’t want to say you get used to it, but you kind of do, and it kind of just depends again on the wind and the day. Sometimes you have to be outside for small amounts of time and then go in.”
Maryland has more than 500 chicken CAFOs, mostly on the Eastern Shore. They range in size from just over 30,000 birds at a time to more than 560,000.
Ferrell and some other Eastern Shore residents are worried about what those farms are releasing into the air. They worry that the farms are making them and their families sick.
They launched what became a years-long fight at the state legislature. This week, members of the House Environment and Transportation Committee considered the latest effort in that fight.