The arctic blast could kill thousands of chickens all over the state, particularly here in North Alabama. The problem, a lack of propane for heating purposes, is so severe that Governor Bentley has declared a state of emergency.
Poultry farmers said it was just a few weeks ago they went from rationing propane to being told from suppliers they cannot get any more. They hope what levels they have in their tanks now will help them weather the cold.
Chicken houses are not well insulated and use a lot of energy to keep them warm. Terry Tucker said approximately three weeks ago they began hearing about a shortage issue when the first cold snap blew in.
Tucker said when the birds first come to their homes they are very vulnerable and baby chicks require temperatures of over 90 degrees. When the temperatures get really cold, propane use is naturally at its highest. Tucker said running out of fuel would be a disaster.
"It's going to be a shell game – where are they going to find the gas? What if they don't find the gas? If they don't, then the baby chicks won't perform; a lot of them will die, and they'll lose a lot of money," he said.
As many as 800 poultry growers have contracted with United Propane Gas of Kentucky to receive propane, but are now being told they cannot currently supply the fuel. In recent weeks the company began rationing propane, but as of Wednesday stopped all supplies.
Dixie Pipeline brings the propane to Alabama with terminals in Demopolis and Opelika. Officials said the pipe is maxed out and couldn't provide more, no matter how much officials want to. Company spokesman Rick Rainey said it started with the crop drying season, followed by the cold weather, saying an opportunity to build reserves has not come up.
United Propane President Eric Small said the choice has come down to either dead birds or dead people. "There is a law that Congress has; if there is a shortage, this propane has to be carried in to residential, to keep people alive in their homes and cut off schools, businesses, chicken houses. That is a law," he said.
Small said they may not be able to get any more propane beofre the end of the month.
Governor Bentley's emergency declaration will eliminate price gouging and allow for any easier access to the fuel that can be provided. Both the governor and the farmers know the problem won't be fixed overnight, but hope relief comes soon.
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