poultry shed and new housing estate© Tim Scrivener

Avoiding and dealing with complaints about odour requires a methodical and considered approach, as Maire Burnett of the British Poultry Council explains.

The demographics of rural society are continuing to change with residential areas now often developed adjacent to agricultural land. As such, complaints about odours from poultry farms have been on the rise.

Not everyone will be accustomed to living in close proximity to agricultural dwellings and may not have an understanding of farming practices, which might result in conflict.

See also: Stop bad smells creating a stink for your poultry firm

Odour is classed as a nuisance and you must therefore take all necessary steps to ensure that the intensity and the duration of these smells should not cause offence, or impact on the wellbeing of others.

When you keep over 40,000 birds on a poultry farm, you will need to have an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency, and the conditions of that permit will cover odour prevention.

What to do if you receive a complaint

Occasional odour isn’t necessarily sufficient grounds for complaint, but you should take all complaints seriously.

When you receive a complaint, you should make a record of the following:

  • Time the odour was first identified. This allows you to look back at the production cycle or any other activities that day
  • Duration of the odour. Knowing how long the odour persisted for can help to identify the possible cause
  • Description of the odour and its intensity. This may or may not fit the description of a smell attributed to poultry
  • Weather conditions at the time of the complaint (in particular, wind direction). Sometimes the wind direction or intensity can spread odours across the boundary
  • Any activity at the “source” which could provide an indication to the cause. Was there anything specific to that day, for example clean out?
  • Any other activity within the vicinity which could be a source of odour/impact on the offensive odour. What was going on around the farm? For example was there muck-spreading, or were other livestock in evidence?

Once you have gathered this information you should, as soon as reasonably practicable, investigate the complaint and make a record of your findings.

What to do if the complaint is substantiated

If the Environment Agency substantiates the claim, this will require you to take further action to avoid further repetition and/or reduce the intensity of the odour. If the odour persists and you have not used best available techniques to correct the issue, the Environment Agency has the power to take enforcement action, for example revocation of your permit.

The information that you recorded on receipt of the complaint and the outcome of your investigation, will determine what you need to do next. It could be that the incident was a “one-off” or from another source outside of your farm.

The source of the odour may not be immediately apparent. In this instance, you should consult the Poultry Industry Good Practice Checklist, which outlines best available techniques and determine the appropriate measures for your farm.

How to avoid a complaint

A key area to avoid complaints, or prevent their escalation, is community engagement. This is especially important in the event of regular complaints.

Promoting and encouraging a local understanding of your business can help to maintain good relationships with the community, and reduce the chances of complaints escalating.

Making the community aware of some of the practices on farm, will help local people understand when the odour intensity may be greater and the reasons why. This can help them become more tolerant of short-term or temporary odours.

You should also ensure your neighbours know who you are and how to contact you regarding an odour complaint, allowing you to identify and resolve the cause.

You can’t always prevent odour from crossing the site boundary, but there are five areas for consideration when looking to minimise odour. The contribution of each will be specific to your farm:

  • Livestock. Other livestock on your farm or in the vicinity could be the source of odour
  • Feed, storage, management, preparation and feeding. Clearing up feed spillages and protecting feed from weather extremities with prevent spoilage and the resulting odour
  • Housing. Infrastructure can play an important role in containing and preventing odour using appropriate ventilation techniques
  • Manure and litter storage and management. Storage and disposal of manure and litter should be carried out effectively and in a timely manner
  • Waste, skips and carcasses. Regular collections should be scheduled to ensure that waste and carcasses are removed from sites with no spillage
  • The legal position

“You must ensure that odour is controlled so as not to materially affect your neighbours’ enjoyment of their property, cause them harm or offence or reduce their legitimate use of the environment, and if problems do occur, or are likely to occur, you must take the appropriate actions to prevent or minimise them.”