ELMWOOD — There’s a new scene on the farming landscape of Cass County.
And, depending on where one travels on U.S. 34, it can be seen from quite a distance.
It’s a chicken breeding farm owned and operated by Thom and Kaylyn Jackman for Lincoln Premium Poultry, the Costco chicken-processing plant based in Fremont.
It’s the only poultry barn in the county.
An open house this month attracted about 150 people, according to Thom Jackman.
“It went well,” he said. ”We were very pleased.”
Lincoln Premium Poultry spokeswoman Jessica Kolterman added, “People were very excited to see the building and its operation in person, and to understand it more clearly.”
The event drew positive comments from many who attended.
“This is great,” said Jennifer Serkiz, executive director of the Cass County Economic Development Council. “I love how it will diversify our farm income.”
“I like it,” said Janet McCartney, a county commissioner. “It’s laid out nice, and it’s good for the economy.”
The purpose of the operation is for roosters and hens to mate, the Jackmans will collect the eggs laid by the hens and then send them to a hatchery, the next step in the process that will eventually bring rotisserie chickens to the dinner table.
“It looks like it’s going to be a good facility, a good location,” said Mike Jensen, the county’s zoning administrator.
But as the jobs and property tax base of the Fremont plant and the farmers serving it are celebrated as significant economic development victories in the state, a number of the large chicken farms necessary to supply the processing plant with birds have met opposition. Public hearings brought out plenty of public sentiment against them.
Lancaster County commissioners' decision to deny a special permit to Sunset Poultry came after hearing opposition from neighbors, including the Raymond Central School District.
Last year, Kolterman said chicken barns supplying Lincoln Premium Poultry span about 20 Nebraska counties and four to five counties in Iowa, adding that the typical four-barn setup costs between $2 million and $2.5 million, with return on the investment estimated at 15 years.
Within a few weeks, approximately 65,000 chickens — 54,000 hens and 11,000 roosters — will be trucked to the Jackmans' four enclosed barns on about 10 acres set back some 650 feet from U.S. 34 two miles southeast of Elmwood.
Each barn is 600 feet long.
“We won’t have multiple flocks, just one flock per year,” Thom Jackman said.
The manure, which is considered dry manure, will remain inside until the plant is shut down for that seven-week period.
Then, the manure might be spread onto his land, he said, or sold to other farmers.
Once at full capacity, Costco's Fremont plant will process more than 2 million birds each week.