* Nearly 3 million chickens killed by deadly twisters
* More than 700 chicken houses destroyed or damaged
By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 3 (Reuters) - Tornadoes that devastated parts of Alabama last week killed nearly 3 million chickens in the No. 3 U.S. chicken producing state, but local officials expected the sector to recover quickly.
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan told Reuters more than 700 poultry houses were damaged or destroyed in the swarm of violent tornadoes that raked the southern state, killing more than 200 people there.
At least 100 more people died in six other southern states in what forecasters were calling the second deadliest tornado outbreak in United States history.
McMillan’s report of damage inflicted by the twisters expanded on the initial estimate he gave on Thursday, when he announced 200 chicken houses destroyed and 180 more damaged.
The commissioner told Reuters 207 chicken houses, which cost nearly $83 million to build, were completely razed.
But McMillan said the impact should only represent a temporary blip for a state that processes 21.5 million chickens a week, although individual poultry farmers would feel their losses keenly.
“Poultry is an industry that bounces back quickly. You can get eggs back in the pipeline pretty quickly,” McMillan said.
Alabama has about 14,000 chicken houses that hold approximately 200 million chickens, according to the National Chicken Council.
Chicken farmers also were afflicted by power outages, feed shortages and loss of drinking water due to the storms.
The storms also hit feed and processing plants. Poultry operators including Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp PPC.N, the No. 1 and No. 2 U.S. chicken producers, were shifting surviving birds to unaffected facilities.
“We have moved millions already,” said Ray Hilburn, membership director of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.
In the U.S. poultry business, the chicken-producing company usually owns the birds and the grower owns the rearing facility and pays for expenses and labor.
In the town of Red Hill, Dan Smalley and three farm workers were struggling to catch escaped chickens and run generators lighting the one remaining chicken house on his farm.
Smalley lost nearly 200,000 of his birds and said his small operation had suffered nearly $2 million in damages.
The day before the twisters struck, Smalley had just received a delivery of baby chicks. Small birds need less room and food than mature animals, making his flock more manageable immediately after the disaster.
But his business had suffered.
“Everything we are doing is raising expenses while income is down. Right now, I am just doing what I can do to keep our heads above water,” said Smalley. (Editing by Pascal Fletcher and David Gregorio)