Poultry operators can increase profits by lowering ongoing energy expenses. Dennis Brothers, Extension poultry housing specialist with the National Poultry Technology Center of Auburn University, led a recent webinar on this topic called “Poultry Operations: Broiler and Breeder Energy Conservation Opportunities.” Brothers focused on commercial broiler and breeder houses. Brothers said broiler and breeder chicken production accounted for 85-90 percent of American commercial poultry houses.
Brothers saw numerous opportunities for energy savings in large poultry operations. He discussed significant energy saving options for lighting, building envelope, ventilation and heating systems. Brothers recommended operators wait for old fans and motors to fail before replacing them with energy efficient ones. These replacements usually have a payback period more than 10 years.
While compact florescent or incandescent bulbs may cost less up front, these bulbs have higher operating costs and shorter life compared with LED bulbs. Brothers recommended choosing a smooth A19-type bulb to minimize dust and heat build-up.
Brothers said producers recognized incandescent and high-pressure sodium vapor (HPS) bulbs as “energy hogs.” According to Brothers, many operators have already switched over to Cold Cathode (CC) or dimmable compact fluorescent (Dim-CFL) bulbs. Some had disappointing results from ill-matched dimmers or poor lighting maintenance. Incandescent and CC bulbs can lose as much as 20 percent of their light output capacity each year, making them ineffective for poultry houses. Dim-CFLs generally failed in poultry operations.
The most efficient light bulbs available today are Light Emitting Diodes (LED) or non-dimmable compact fluorescent (CFL). Both types are available in a variety or shapes and color ranges. LEDs are proving effective in ongoing poultry operations tests.
Brothers recommended adjustable or dimmable lighting systems to offer ideal light levels at every poultry development stage. When changing light bulb types, confirm dimmer compatibility. Not all dimmers work well with LEDs or CFLs. The payback period for LED bulbs is typically under a year.
Brothers recommended using a light meter regularly to check light levels and adjust dimmers to offer poultry age-appropriate light levels.
When considering a lighting type, balance bulb warranty and longevity, operating and upfront costs. For example, a poultry house with 50 75W incandescent bulbs might cost $25 to install, $2,025/year in energy and the bulbs might last three to four months. The same lighting produced with LED bulbs would cost $600 to install, use $162/year in energy and last five to seven years. Over time, the savings with LED bulbs would be average over $2,500/year on a farm with four poultry houses.
While LED and other high-efficiency bulbs give off less heat, the electricity savings will more than offset the small additional heating cost.
The dust generated in poultry operations quickly coats light bulbs. The more coils, fins or bumps in a bulb design, the more areas for dust to collect. Dust causes bulbs to give out less light, overheat and shortens their useful lives. “Heat is the biggest enemy of light bulbs,” said Brothers. He recommended selecting bulbs with the simplest A19 design (shaped like traditional incandescent bulbs) and avoiding bulb shapes with cooling fins. As part of routine cleaning between flocks, operators should wipe dust from bulbs to maximize light levels and bulb longevity.
Improving insulation ranked second in potential savings according to Brothers. He prioritized sealing leaks, insulating curtain sidewalls and then insulating attics. Secure or change flexible plastic sidewalls to solid, insulated walls. Fiberglass batts are often used with vapor barriers to retrofit older houses. Fiberglass insulation yields slightly higher R-values and lasts longer than spray foam insulation but is more difficult to seal tightly. For retrofit construction, spray closed-cell polyurethane foam over secured plastic curtain or metal walls. Brothers recommended spraying foam at least 3 lbs/sq.ft. Depending on foam thickness, R-values can improve from R1 with curtains only to R8 with foam.
Be sure to install wooden “scrape boards” over the bottom of insulation to prevent poultry from pecking at insulation. Brothers recommended instituting a regular insect inspection and control program for all insulated sidewalls. Clean spray foam walls with a brush annually. Brothers advised against using bubble wrap for insulation.
The best insulation offers consistant coverage and thickness. Blown-in cellulose insulation settles, especially in attics over slanted ceilings and where fans cause vibrations. Fiberglass insulation will compact slightly over long periods of time, but fiberglass does not settle or move downhill the way blown-in cellulose does. Fiberglass batts are easiest to install in new buildings. Blown in fiberglass is a good alternative to cellulose and the best option for retrofits. Be sure to insulate access panels and seal around all openings.
Inspect insulation annually. To test for leaks and efficacy, use thermal photographs on a cold winter day or reverse images on a hot summer day.
Brothers recommended using circulating or stirring fans to bring warm air down to poultry. Fans should be open with minimal surfaces to collect dust and reduce effectiveness. Since heat naturally rises, stir fans can reduce fuel use 15-25 percent in older buildings with a payback of one to two years. Fans in newer houses may save 5-10 percent in fuel and have a 3-4 year payback. Other benefits of stir fans are improved ventilation and litter quality, moisture control, healthier animals and better overall performance. Brothers reminded operators to space and install fans per manufacturers’ directions.
Chicks need consistent floor heat. Most traditional convective heating systems create hotspots surrounded by cold areas. Forced hot air heaters heat from top down. Circulating or stirring fans help move the warmth sideways and vertically down to the floor.
According to Brothers, radiant heaters are approximately 10-15 percent more efficient than conventional systems at heating the floor, putting the heat where the birds need it. Operators and integrators should select the brand, output and spacing that best fit their needs and budget.
Brothers recommended all operators check equipment between flocks. Clean dust from lights, fans, heaters and motors. Regular maintenance increases profits. Frequent maintenance cycles involve less work and help equipment perform and last longer. Equipment performance and longevity will suffer with infrequent maintenance. Under-maintained and underperforming equipment will limit poultry performance and require more maintenance, labor and expense.