Stinking to high heaven


photo:  Bill Coleman

Ah, the rural life.  Birds, bees, valleys, trees, and…funky farm smells.  City folk who idealize the pastoral existence often forget to take into account the odorific nature of country livin’.

The clear majority of farms operated by the Amish are of the less-stinky dairy variety.  Hog farms are much less commonly run by Amish, but you do see them from time to time.  In Lancaster County there are just a few.  Northern Indiana, as in Lagrange and Elkhart Counties, also has a handful.

North Carolina, where I grew up, is one of the most ‘hog-ified’ states.  And you can’t miss that smell.  I’ve never understood how hog farming families can get used to it (or their neighbors, for that matter–and judging by the outcry that some non-hogging landowners put up over the presence of these farms, many don’t).  The hog farm smell has just got to be one of the worst there is.

Not to get too nasty, but the smell of the typical dairy farm you can actually get quite used to–it’s much more earthy and subtle (wait a minute, am I describing a farm or a fine wine here..?).  The hog farm stench, on the other hand, sort of pops you in the face.  It’s anything but subtle.

Poultry farming is also seen among some Amish.  The northern Indiana Amish do chickens and ducks.  Those types of farms emit fairly terrible odors as well.

But the worst ‘country’ smell of all, (at least for these olfactory receptors), worse than even the paper mills and the landfills, has to be that of the rendering plant.

A rendering plant will often set up in a rural area as a sort of ‘post-processing’ center for animal byproducts like blood and fat and feathers.  The rendering industry’s magazine, Render, tells us on its site that the industry produces ‘beneficial commodities including tallow, grease, and protein meals.’  Yummy.

I remember in Ohio a couple years ago being smacked in the face by a horrific rancid smell while stopping in at an Amish dairy.  I recall the young Amish guy I was talking to sort of rolling his eyes in disgust.  ‘The rendering plant’, he muttered, gesturing off in the distance.  Apparently the wind had started blowing in the wrong direction.

I can understand how these smells can affect real estate values.  Looking to move to the country anytime soon?  Might be worth driving around and checking out the neighbors.  Otherwise you might find yourself wearing nose plugs more often than you’d have wanted.

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    1. Katie Troyer

      Rendering Plant, years ago here in Ohio it was called “Stink Plant”.

    2. Still is known as the “stink plant”. And rightly so. Enough to make your breakfast come up the esophagus. And the little parochial school only 200 yards away- how I pity them. But one girl that attended there says you kind of get used to it. “kind of”!
      And the smells, you left off the dog kennels. They are worse than pigs in some cases.
      And I have heard pig farmes comment, upon smelling a farrowing or finishing house, “Smell that money?”

    3. My wife is an Iowa farm girl. She used to tell me that to hog farmers, that smell is the smell of money. But her parents had an Old MacDonald farm, not a modern factory farm, so she didn’t have to live with it.

      I do remember riding near Shipshewana one morning and hearing the sound of lids banging on hog feeders, and realizing it had been a long time since I used to hear that. How’s that for nostalgia? It’s not factory farming, though.

      I’ve never been downwind of a rendering plant, but for bad country smells try living downwind of the Convis Township landfill in Calhoun County, MI. I try to find a route upwind when I ride past it.

    4. Matthew

      In Lancaster County, a number of Amish and Mennonite farmers use liquid manures to fertilize their fields. I’m judging by the smell that it is chicken manure. Now, I actually LIKE the smell. Its pure country. But for my relatives who migrated to Lancaster Country straight from the city, well, they aren’t so delighted to wake up in the morning to that aroma.

      As for the hog farm, I wonder if the smell of a country breakfast (including lots of bacon) would cover the smell up in the house?

    5. Stench of hog farm vs. rendering plant

      How do you eat if you live on a hog farm? It never goes away…comes in your kitchen and sits down with you at the table…must be lucrative enough though, if someone is going to put up with that…or maybe it’s something you grow up with, and get used to it, until it really does start to ‘smell like money’ (:

      The first time I smelled a full-on rendering plant, it was almost a gag reflex…There is a Staley plant in Decatur, Illinois that processes corn and soybeans if anyone’s been in that neck of the woods. Maybe I’m oversensitive, but that smell is hideous. Luckily it doesn’t manage to drift down to the Amish at Arthur which is a good half-hour southeast.

      On the other end of the spectrum, I used to live near a chocolate factory here in Krakow. That is kind of a nice aroma to have in the air.

    6. CAS

      Unrelated comment!

      Am very interested to find out
      the Amish per capita energy consumption (a rough average would do, though an itemized list would be preferable.) Is there any such stats available anywhere?

    7. I hate the smell of hog farms! GAG! We used to have a rendering plant 20 miles from where we lived and if the wind was blowing just right you could smell it! i am not kidding! It really did drift 20 miles! I don’t mind dairy farms or even chickens near so much as hog farms.

    8. David

      I have been reading your blog for a while now and find it very interesting. I, too, am from NC (Southeastern NC.) How did you end up living in Poland?

    9. CAS–unfortunately I don’t have that information…a little digging might turn something up, you could also try the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. There is a link to the site on my post of November 17th.

    10. Matthew, michelle, I may just have a sensitive nose, too ‘city’ perhaps…dairy farms are about the only thing I can stand!

      Hi David, thanks for reading! Both of my parents immigrated from Poland. I returned after finishing university. My father grew up in a town called Plymouth in eastern NC. There was a Weyerhauser paper plant just outside of town. That’s how I became familiar with that aroma. I grew up in Raleigh though, thankfully far enough from any rendering plants! What’s your hometown?

    11. CAS

      Amish America– thanks for the tip. I had a similar suggestion from a journalist who was familiar with the Young Center for Anabaptist Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, and have since contacted them.

      That said, I would welcome all additional information, as and when, on the Amish energy and lifestyle issues, and will keep on reading your newsletters.

    12. David

      I was reared in the little town of Bladenboro, NC. (Left to attend UNC-CH and returned to teach in the high school I had graduated from.) On the subject of paper mills, we were about 30 miles or so from the Riegel plant (which was between us and Wilmington.) On a rainy day, if the wind was right, you could get some pretty bad scents. We referred to days (and odors) like that as “stinking like Riegelwood”.

    13. Many of the Mennonites in this area have the big chicken barns, and I can testify that the odors are overwhelming to the unaccustomed. We are happy that our nearest Mennonite neighbors are involved in greenhouses, dairy, and machine repair (in addition to farming.) Odors are strong only on the spring days when they spread manure on the fields.