Even the most efficient poultry unit can tighten up on energy-saving protocols by conducting a simple audit, with quick wins possible in most cases.
Straightforward, low-cost measures include sealing gaps in walls and keeping lighting clean, while longer-term considerations could mean producing – and even selling – your own electricity.
We asked Barry Caslin, an energy specialist at Ireland’s agriculture food and development authority Teagasc, for his top tips to ensure housing is as efficient as possible.
1. Work out where energy is being used
Evaluate how much energy is being consumed and where and when that is occurring, by keeping a regular log of meter readings, taken manually or by using data logging equipment.
This information will identify which processes consume a lot of energy and will help to build a picture of where changes can be made that will reduce consumption.
Another option is to commission an energy audit, as this will also provide actions that can be taken to save energy and suggestions for renewable energy solutions.
2. Stop heating losses
Small changes, such as placing thermostats away from draughts and doors and getting boilers serviced regularly, avoid the heating system working harder than it needs to; these are small tweaks but can add up to big savings overall.
If your boiler is old, replace it with a model that is energy efficient or operates on renewable energy. There is, of course, a capital outlay, but it will soon pay for itself if your existing boiler is wasting energy.
Radiant heaters for heating the floor area are worth considering – these minimise rises in air temperature.
If you are rearing chicks, it is not necessary to heat the entire house to the higher temperatures chicks require. Instead, create smaller areas fitted with brooding curtains for the chicks.
If heating is required for litter moisture control, prioritise fixing sources of unnecessary wetness, such as leaks or drinkers.
Use electronic sensors at bird height to improve heating accuracy.
3. Consider indirect heating systems
Siting a boiler in an annex adjacent to the poultry housing, and then transferring the heat via an in-house radiator system, can be a more efficient alternative to a conventional gas heating system.
Studies have shown that indirect heating systems have no negative impact on flock performance or bird welfare.
These systems are relatively expensive to install, but when they are up and running they typically offer 93% efficiency compared with 60% from an older box-type heater.
4. Ensure you have good insulation
If a building isn’t insulated, a big chunk of the energy you are paying for is being lost through walls, roofs and floors.
Aim for a thermal conductivity of 0.4W/sq m or higher.
Although this is now mostly incorporated in all new poultry houses, the target should also be applied to extensive refurbishments, because improving insulation keeps heat in and also reduces “solar gain” in summer, helping to keep the house cool and reducing energy needs for ventilation.
Historically, adding 200mm of insulation was recommended – that standard has now been doubled to 400mm.
Insulate the roof, floor and walls – concrete mass walls should be insulated all the way to the ground.
Payback on this investment can take seven or eight years, but you can’t run an efficient poultry unit without it.
5. Keep insulation dry
When fibrous lagging material gets wet it loses its insulation properties, so apply a water vapour barrier to stop this from happening.
If the material does get wet or damaged, replace it.
6. Control airflow from ventilation
To keep birds healthy, poultry sheds are designed to be ventilated, but controlling that flow of air is important, especially in winter.
Many poultry houses work on negative pressure, so a good way to test for leaks is to close all the vents and switch on the fans to establish the pressure level.
You should be aiming for a pascal (Pa) – the standard unit for pressure – reading of 20-30. If this can’t be achieved in a typical house with four fans, there is probably a significant leakage.
Having fewer fans but using speed control can achieve target minimum ventilation rates and give better control: select fans that have the capability to operate intermittently.
Match the size and number of fans to the number of birds.
7. Manage ventilation fans
In adequately insulated houses, the basic heat losses result from ventilation; this means that energy saving can be achieved from precise control of ventilation based on the actual needs of birds.
Ventilation fans are the driving force behind the exchange of air needed to create a healthy environment. However, management of these is needed for efficient energy use because if you over-ventilate you will pay for energy you don’t need.
First and foremost, to run efficiently, fans must be kept clean – clean the shutters, blades and guards after every flock cycle.
Check pulleys, fan belts and belt tensioners, because belt slippage can reduce airflow and increase belt wear.
Use variable speed drive inverters to speed or slow fans as required.
8. Match fans to duct sizes
If these are mismatched, the building will over-ventilate.
Furthermore, restricting the duct size will cause more resistance, resulting in less airflow, because the air will take the path of least resistance.
Seek advice to ensure fans and duct sizes are compatible.
Check that airflow isn’t being compromised by blocked inlets and outlets.
9. Switch to LED lighting
As a general rule, the poultry industry is fairly conservative and has taken some time to become comfortable with LED technology and replace old incandescent and tungsten halogen lights with these energy efficient systems.
But as sufficient data has become available, poultry producers are embracing LED technology and the energy savings it brings.
A good LED bulb is at least 80% more efficient than an incandescent bulb, but not all LEDs are the same, so invest time and do your research before buying.
Avoid bulbs that have not been proven in a poultry unit environment because with challenges such as dust, humidity, moisture, and ammonia, the setting is much harsher than a domestic residential or commercial building and some bulbs are not designed to perform in that type of environment.
Luminaire distribution and control should provide even lighting throughout the house for optimum efficiency.
Clean light fittings regularly.
10. Prevent air leakages
Buildings should be well sealed so that air enters or escapes from the envelope only at the inlet and outlet positions.
Seal gaps in walls, around windows, doors, louvres and fans to reduce air leakage.
This measure can pay for itself in less than a year.
11. Fit backdraught shutters
Backdraught shutters increase the airtightness of a shed and will therefore reduce heat loss.
12. Check the accuracy and condition of sensors
Regularly check sensors and controllers against a thermometer.
Sensors should be clean and positioned where they will give a representative temperature.
13. Become an energy producer
Costs can be reduced by generating power on-farm. Get an understanding of the pros and cons of the various technologies and match one to the nature and scale of your heat demand.
But be aware that the Renewable Heat Incentive comes to an end on 31 March 2022 and there are no plans to extend it beyond that date.