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Andrew and Laura Ruwe with sons Tabalo and Amit stand inside one of the four poultry barns being built on their farm. The barns are 600-feet long and 63-feet wide and can house up to 47,500 chickens per barn.

Chicken sandwiches.

What else would be served during an open house Monday aimed to educate the public on how Andrew Ruwe's four broiler barns will work once they're used to raise chickens for Costco's $400 million processing plant in Fremont.

The open house was hosted by Ruwe and Lincoln Premium Poultry (LPP), which will operate the Costco plant. It was held inside one of Ruwe's barns, which are located on County Road 7 just north of Telbasta and expected to be operational Sep. 22.

"This was a great opportunity to come back to the farm," said Ruwe, who currently works as an electrician in Omaha. "I gave them my five-month notice way back, and (the operation date) is coming up here. It'll be good to come back to the area and be here."

Ruwe and his wife, Laura, are one of three Washington County families who received conditional use permits (CUP) and continued the process forward to raise chickens for the Costco plant. Jeff and Kelli Shaner's four breeder barns southeast of Herman became operational May 10. Their barns will be used to lay and collect fertilized eggs, which will be transferred to a hatchery and sent to broiler barns like the Ruwes' and Arlington farmer Erik Soll's. The broiler barns can hold up to 47,500 chickens per barn.

While the Shaners and Ruwes had little opposition to their barns, Soll received some pushback in April 2018 when the county was considering the CUPs. County residents neighboring his barns, located along County Road 28 north of Arlington, expressed concern about truck traffic, health issues because of the barns proximity to other people and negative impacts on property values.

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Fans constructed into the walls at the back of Ruwe's barns will help control airflow and temperature for chickens in conjunction with "cooling cells" at the front of the barn. Fans will also be installed inside the building to work with airvents built into the walls.

But Willow Holoubek, the grower engagement manager with LPP, said people, even if they've been on the fence, are always impressed after leaving their open houses.

A second open house is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Soll's property, 26258 County Road 28.

"This is a new industry to Nebraska, so when we say we're going to have a 600-foot long chicken house, nobody can even comprehend what we're talking about," Holoubek said. "It's always been fun watching the people come in and they go, 'Oh.' We talk about all the different parts and they're usually just amazed."

Holoubek said the 600-feet long and 63-feet wide broiler barns are engineering feats. While most of the buildings are enclosed, there are several moving parts, controlled by a software operating system, which can open to allow airflow inside. There's a collection of fans, doors and air vents built into the walls and connected to thermostats to maintain for the growing chickens a proper temperature — an average of about 85 degrees.

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Black, cardboard "cooling cells" (background) will work in conjunction with fans and doors built onto the inside of the Ruwe's poultry barns' walls (foreground) to catch water and pull air through the buildings. The airflow will help keep the chickens cool on hot days.

Running about a quarter-length on the inside walls from the front of the barn to the center will be doors, which can be opened and closed to allow for the right amount of airflow. Opposite the doors, on the outer wall, will be black cardboard panels called cooling cells, which will work with the doors and also fans at the back of the building.

"When the temperature (inside) goes over 85 degrees, we have the cool cells," Holoubek said. "Those are like cardboard radiators. We dribble water through that cardboard radiator and then the fans (in the back) of the house will pull air through here at about 700 feet a minute. That air actually goes down over the chickens and it's like a windchill effect."

In addition to the cooling cells, what are essentially ceiling fans will also be installed inside the barns to maintain temperature. Those fans will work with air vents, which have flaps that open and close to allow air inside.

"These (flaps) are curved so that the air will follow the ceiling," Holoubek said. "In the middle of the house will be big stir fans, just like a regular fan. It'll stir all the air and it will come down slowly on the chickens, so it's not all cold air coming right down on the chickens."

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The air vents and flaps that will be used to help control airflow and temperature for chickens inside of Ruwe's poultry barns.

The barns also will have water and feed lines operating through Rotem, the software operating system. The water and feed lines can be raised and lowered to the right height as the chickens grow from chicks to adults.

Ruwe said Rotem is an "amazing system" that will help him maintain his broiler barns in a way that will keep the chickens happy.

"There are thermostats all through this place," he said. "Just coming through checking feed lines, if they're all eating comfortable, if they're all crowded up in a spot then I know I have to figure out air movement, or I got a hot spot or a cold spot or something. I want them all spread out ... You just make sure your chickens are happy."

Holoubek said the new chicken barns being built for the Costco plant bring another industry to the state which can help support Nebraska's agriculture.

"It's a whole sustainable process because we have the corn, we feed it to the animals, the animals eat it and put on weight, create protein," Holoubek said. "Also, we have a waste product, the nutrient or the manure if you want to call it. Our farms need that because our corn takes it out. It helps our soil become nutritious, it's good for soil health and then we do the process all over again."

Ruwe, who has been participating in classes hosted by LPP that teach growers how to operate the barns' equipment, said he's excited to be on the farm full time and start contributing to Nebraska's diversifying agricultural sector.

"We've had an amazing support of people," Ruwe said of his fellow agricultural neighbors. "When we ask them, 'Oh, we're just excited to see the barns and see everything.' (They have) cattle up there, pigs over there. We're in the middle of rural Nebraska, and they know know this is what it is when you move to a rural area."

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