Town officials are seeking public input today on a proposal to construct a chicken farm that eventually could house 3 million birds in the town of La Prairie.

The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the town hall, 3610 S. La Prairie Town Hall Road, Janesville.

Family-owned S&R Egg Farm owns an estimated 4.3 million birds and more than 1,000 acres of farmland in Wisconsin, including farms in Whitewater and Palmyra, according to the company’s website.

A proposed third location in the town of La Prairie eventually would add 3 million chickens in 10 buildings to that total. The company plans to start with three buildings and just fewer than 1 million birds at the new site and grow over time, Town Chairman Allan Arndt said.

So far, public reaction has been mixed, and town officials want to hear more from residents.

“I think with all things that are large, there’s some concern and some thought processes,” Arndt said. “… We don’t know what we don’t know about big operations like this, so the idea is to feel it out the best we can and work our way through the process.”

S&R Egg Farm representatives approached town officials a year ago about buying 100-plus acres west of Belding Road, Arndt said. They filed an application for the farm in August, and the town had 45 days to tell the company whether the application was complete, which it was.

The town now has another 45 days to approve or deny the proposal. That deadline is Nov. 19.

Arndt said the state Livestock Facility Siting Review Board controls much of the process. The board sets standards for agricultural operations such as the proposed farm, and as long as the farm meets the standards, the board approves it.

Opponents must prove that the proposed farm violates those standards or safety, Arndt said. Unless the more than 800-page proposal contains a glaring error, he said it likely will be approved.

“We would have to come up with something very challenging in the application to justify a denial,” he said.

Arndt said today’s hearing is an opportunity to ensure people are informed and prepared.

“This is not a trial-and-error system,” Arndt said of the operation. “They’ve got a pretty good system worked out, so beyond that, it’s a matter of how do we make sure this thing functions in the town without creating other issues.”

S&R representatives attended a crowded informational meeting about their plans last fall. Arndt said that meeting helped dispel rumors, including concerns about odors.

Norm Tadt, a senior conservation specialist for the Rock County Land Conservation Department, joined town officials on a visit to one of S&R Egg Farm’s facilities. He said the smell was nonexistent.

“The way we looked at it is there’s going to be days that there probably is some odor,” Tadt said. “I think we’d all be putting our heads in the sand to think that it would be totally odor-free. But when we were out there, it was hard to believe because there really was a complete lack of odor.”

Tadt said years ago, a similar operation would have had a strong smell. He said S&R has worked hard to cut down on odors.

“They’ve done a lot of different things and have worked very diligently, it appears, to try different things to reduce that odor,” he said.

The chicken manure is stored dry, which helps reduce the smell and presence of flies, Tadt said. Once collected, the manure is moved on perforated belts, and fans cut the moisture in the manure from 90% to 10% or 15%.

“Less odor the drier things are,” he said. “If you dehydrate a banana, it doesn’t really smell like a banana.”

The manure would be stored in a building, rather than in a lagoon or buried in the ground. The operation will need county permits for stormwater and erosion control and a manure storage permit when construction plans are finalized, Tadt said.

County officials and farm representatives will meet again in early November. Tadt said he’s not sure whether the company will have construction plans ready by then.