September 12th, 2013 News

September 12th, 2013

What is it like to live near a CAFO?

Over the last couple of months many of us have been pondering this question. The sources listed on the Links page of our website can help you understand the issues a neighboring CAFO presents. However, the SLEC committee thought many of you may really appreciate hearing a firsthand account...

I was not particularly upset at learning in May of 2000, that I was soon to have seven-hundred dairy cows for neighbors at my small, rural, Van Wert County, Ohio, home. After all, I liked cows. My Grandparents’ farm was my favorite place as a child and their cows the most delightful of creatures.

Before long I began understanding that this style of farming was nothing like that of my childhood memories so I set out to educate myself and visited existing factory farms in Ohio and Indiana. Questions began developing in my mind but I welcomed the young Dutch couple owning and managing the farm and we established an amicable and neighborly relationship. As operations began and truck loads of cows were delivered to the farm site, I visited not infrequently and we established that, if I had had questions or concerns, I would come to the operators first. I quickly learned when I identified a new-born bull calf with a perfect outline of the State of Ohio on his head and inquired of his destination (I was told that he would be in some future McDonald’s hamburger or my dog’s food) that these cows were not considered living, breathing creatures but were commodities only. Henceforth my visits to the farm located three hundred feet from my property, became fewer and then only to have questions answered. I felt reasonably welcomed until one day following a lengthy rain event during which I had noticed a trenching company hard at work near the free-standing barn, I was refused admission. It was my concern that both of the open clay waste lagoons were to capacity and trenches were being dug to permit effluent to drain from the two manure pits, one million gallon each, to……….somewhere. As the rain continued I was witness to the young farmer spraying huge volumes of liquid manure onto his own alfalfa field (apparently he had nowhere else to dispose of the excess that had now accumulated). That field, which lay next to an open ditch, was that night drenched by a five- inch rainfall. Where did the manure from that slightly elevated site flow? My guess - the ditch - which ultimately found its way to the western basin of Lake Erie. Within a few days the crop in the manure-saturated field had died.

Having been denied access to the farm and refusal to have questions answered, I deferred the situation to the County Health Department and learned that the new department director was not even aware of the presence of a CAFO at the described location. I knew at that moment a move would be necessitated and I began my housing search in Steuben Co., Indiana, the land of 101 lakes where, I thought, I would be safe from any future encounters with this despicable type of farming (better said, “industry”). My house was listed with a realtor who cushioned me for at least a twenty percent loss of property value along with an anticipated lengthy wait for an interested buyer.

During the three- year effort to leave the area I had the blessing of owning a small, seasonal cottage in Steuben County to which I could escape on weekends. I grieved for my neighbors, many whom had no choice but to stay and endure the 24/7 traffic, the dust storms during silage harvest, the rumble of daily milk trucks, factory noises, and yes, odor! Many reported illnesses among their children and death of pets which had played in the manure-saturated, ditched stream as it made its way toward the Auglaize River.

Generally, I was not outraged by the odor of manure, which smelled nothing like that from my Grandparents’ cows, but I did have overnight company once who said she would never again visit my home because of the offensive odor. It did become problematic during hot humid days in the late summer when the gasses plumed from the lagoons and released their noxious odors and who-knows-what chemicals on my homestead. On the rare occasion that the wind direction permitted the opening of my house windows, during the night the wind would shift to the north and I would awaken to an odd and putrid taste in my mouth – not the usual morning mouth – but the taste of gases from the CAFO which had wafted and infiltrated my entire home. I had long since quit inviting friends to my home, never knowing which way the wind would blow, and although I could endure most of the factory odors there was one that I found inexcusable and intolerable: the smell of dead, decaying cows. The odor of death drove me indoors from working in my garden, my orchard, mowing my three acre park-like yard, enjoying swimming and fishing in my one-half acre pond. The rendering company simply couldn’t keep up with the numbers of animals who suffered premature deaths at this deplorable and disease infested confinement operation. (While still in the neighborly mode, I asked the young farmer if his farm was anything like what he expected and what was different from his family farm in the Netherlands. Although still struggling to learn English, he made it known that this was not what he expected and that the biggest difference was the disease and death within the herd.)

Against all odds I did have an offer on my home, which I most eagerly accepted. Although I love my life on the shoreline of one of Lake County’s more pristine, small lakes, I still feel robbed of my home and my life near Convoy, Ohio. I had worked for twenty years to turn former agricultural land into an oasis for wildlife and for my retirement pleasure. Sadder, though, is that many of my neighbors have remained and have endured the issues I was able to escape. Some have developed health issues – maybe age related, maybe not.

Never did I think we would be facing factory farming in this rich environmental area I now call “home”, an area where tourism is considered the biggest industry. With one CAFO operational near Fremont, now we face another factory farm on the other side of the county. My story could go on, but it is my hope that my fellow citizens of western Steuben County can be spared the heartache of living with a factory farm in their neighborhood.

Name withheld in the respect of privacy

Resident of Fremont, Indiana

We hope you have found this as interesting as we have. In the coming weeks we hope to provide additional firsthand accounts.

Links of Interest:

-Appraisal Implications of Proximity to Feedlots by John A. Kilpatrick

-Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan Website

-Steuben Lakes Environmental Consortium (SLEC) Website

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