Poultry plant primed for production

The Costco Poultry Plant in Fremont is run by Lincoln Premium Poultry. It will eventually employ more than 1,000 people and process around 2 million chickens every week at full capacity.

The new Costco Poultry Plant in Fremont is ramping up production. The plant, run by Lincoln Premium Poultry, began operations Sept. 3.

All stages are go and running at this time. From the hatchery to the handling lines, the 660 current employees are busily processing hundreds of thousands of chickens per week.

“When at full operational capability, this plant will provide Costco with around 2 million chickens each week,” said Jessica Kolterman, corporate and external affairs for Lincoln Premium Poultry.

At that time the plant should have its full complement of 1,070 employees. Kolterman said that approximately 99% of LPP employees are from Nebraska and with the exception of a few outliers, they reside within a 60-mile radius of Fremont. Of these, approximately 51% are from Fremont, the rest are from surrounding communities including Lincoln, Omaha, Wahoo, Schuyler and Columbus, as well as smaller towns in Dodge, Saunders, Colfax, Cuming and other counties, she said.

“A portion of the processed poultry will go to Costco for sale as rotisserie chickens,” Kolterman said. “The rest will be also be sold at Costco, but under the Kirkland Signature brand as thighs, breasts and wings.”

The chickens are raised in nearby broiler barns. At full production, there will be 520 poultry barns being run by Nebraska and Iowa producers. The LPP supply chain will consist of 24 barns on eight pullet farms, 64 barns on 16 breeder farms and 432 broiler barns.

“Producers run the barns in four-barn setups,” Kolterman said. “Each phase in the poultry cycle has a separate facility.”

Brand new chicks from selected genetic stock were first brought to the pullet barns more than a year ago, she said. After reaching maturity at 22 weeks, they are moved to the breeder barns. Here, the hens supply eggs for LPP’s hatchery.

In the hatchery facility, there are 60 incubators and 36 hatchers. According to Quora.com, the hatcher is the part of the incubator where the eggs lie still for the last three days of the incubation cycle. Generally, the humidity and airflow are slightly higher in the hatcher because eggs require higher humidity towards the hatching phase.

Each incubator holds 43,008 eggs. When all single-stage incubators are filled, LPP will be incubating 7.4 million eggs at once, Kolterman said. Eggs will be set in hatchers five days a week, ideal for a consistent weight and size.

According to Dr. Joe Mauldin, professor of poultry science at the University of Georgia, single-stage incubation can be defined as the process of incubating eggs of a single age in an incubator (all-in; all-out) With single-stage, all eggs are removed from the incubator at transfer time, leaving the machine empty. After transfer, empty machines can be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

Kolterman said that 1.54 million eggs can be hatched at once. Once hatched, the chicks will be transferred to the broiler barns. No human hand touches a chick through the entire process.

“The chickens will be raised at the broiler barns for 42 days,” she said. “They are brought back to the LPP facility at that time.”

The broiler barns are supplied with feed for the chickens from the LPP facility. Local corn and soy is delivered by truck and converted at the feed plant into one of seven types of feed, Kolterman said.

Approximately 960 total inbound and outbound grain trucks will be handled every week, once full capacity is reached, Kolterman said. According to LPP estimates, the weekly feed volumes produced would be about 401,500 bushels or 13,805 tons.

“At this point, all the corn has come from Dodge, Saunders and Washington Counties,” she said. “Since start-up, more than 2,000 loads of feed have been sent to farms by truck.”

At this time, LPP expects to reach full production by summer 2020. The company is still seeking employees to fill the hundreds of job positions currently open at the plant.

Jon Burleson can be reached at jon.burleson@lee.net.