Keep Poultry Houses Tight to Save Energy

US - Cutting down on air leakages is key to saving energy (and costs) in poultry production, according to consultant, Gary Van Wicklen. He addressed producers at a Poultry Animal Health Seminar in Dauphin, Pennsylvania last week.
calendar icon 19 May 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

The take-home message at last week's Poultry Animal Health Seminar was simple: if the practice is not economically feasible, farmers are not going to embrace it. However, in light of rising energy bills, poultry producers are interested in cutting heating costs, reports Lancaster Farming.

Speaking at this month's seminar was Gary Van Wicklen, a poultry/agricultural engineer who operates a consulting firm in Delaware for the Delmarva Peninsula's poultry industry.

The key step and most affordable, Mr Van Wicklen believes, is to make sure that poultry houses are tight and minimising air leakage. For example, he noted that newer houses have half the energy costs of houses constructed ten to 15 years ago.

"We all realise that over time, things happen to our poultry houses: the foundation settles, wood warps, or equipment becomes less efficient," he said. While building a new house is not sensible, producers can work to minimize the test of time.

"The basic characteristic of a top-performing poultry house is house tightness," he said.

Mr Van Wicklen recommends inspecting walls at the foundation level because, as the foundation settles, an air space can develop. In new houses, he recommends that a rubber seal be placed between the wall and foundation.

For older houses, he advises producers to purchase an automatic caulking gun and caulk spaces.

While it might seem like a lot of work, he said the energy savings will pay for it. For example, a 50 by 500-foot house with a quarter-inch crack in a three-mile-per-hour breeze with an inside/outside temperature difference of 80°F would take three gallons of propane per hour to just heat the air leakage.

While propane costs were lower this winter, signs are showing that costs will creep much higher next year.

"Subtle cracks can be costly," Mr Van Wicklen said. Other costs come in litter quality and bird production, which can be reduced by air leaks.

Another simple management tool he suggested was inspecting attic insulation to make sure it has not shifted, settled or been damaged.

Other items for consideration include replacing outdated fans and switching to energy efficient light bulbs. In the Delmarva, cold cathode light bulbs have worked well for most flocks. Compact fluorescents have yet to be used. Van Wicklen noted some compact fluorescents have been developed for dimming, but needed to be tried.

Lancaster Farming reports that the Delmarva region, he said, has some of the highest electricity rates. And farmers have been looking to renewable energy projects as their options.

However, "even if solar and wind were affordable, it makes sense to lower the poultry house energy use to reduce the investment into power," Mr Van Wicklen said.

He explained that wind is not feasible on poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula because of their location. However, it could be feasible on wind farms planned for the bay and ocean.

Mr Van Wicklen is more positive about solar power generation although the investment cost is high, concludes the Lancaster Farming report. The only way a farmer can get a return on the investment in four years, he said, is by getting into the Delmarva Power energy programme, receiving a USDA rural energy grant, taking advantage of a solar tax credit and selling the farm's renewable energy credits.

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