Renewable biomass energy revolutionises poultry production

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This article is written by Les Heywood, the owner of Hollyfield Poultry Farm. Do read up on this project and find out how a 300kW biomass boiler solution at Hollyfield farm heats five poultry houses and farmhouse, improves bird welfare and saves money on farm input costs.

As with most types of farming production in the UK, the poultry meat industry is challenged with tight margins and ever-increasing input prices. Rising energy costs place a particular demand with heating being one of the most critical and expensive inputs.

The typical design of a modern poultry building requires a floor space large enough to grow birds from day old chicks to full slaughter weight. With chicks delivered straight from hatchery to farm for whole house brooding, the critical temperature needed of around 32°C requires a constant heat input. The result is the consumption of large quantities of fossil fuels needed to heat the whole air and floor space (typically via LPG fired in-house heaters).

As well as the financial demand on farmers, a further factor of direct heating is the by-products of combustion which are placed inside of the poultry house, creating a less than perfect environment for chicks and stockman alike. When propane (LPG) undergoes combustion, both carbon dioxide and water are created. After a few days, poultry houses will need to be regularly ventilated to remove CO₂ , necessitating further heating to warm the incoming fresh air. Water increases humidity levels, deteriorating litter quality if not managed correctly.

In stark contrast, many poultry farmers are now starting to reap huge benefits in more ways than one from conversion to indirect ‘renewable’ heating systems. Made financially viable by the governments renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme launched in November 2011, capital investment are now being made into complete biomass heating.

A biomass boiler (fuelled typically by wood chip) heats water remotely which is then piped underground into poultry houses to be converted into warm air through heat exchangers. The dry and indirect heat has massive benefits to the environment within the poultry house and ultimately, bird welfare. Production of CO₂, carbon monoxide, and water is eliminated from heating, so air and litter quality are greatly improved. Ventilation is more manageable and an ideal house environment can be easily achieved throughout the year. Lower humidity levels can be achieved throughout the complete bird cycle to maintain a higher litter quality. This has benefits both financially (reducing the cost of bedding by eliminating top-ups) and  to bird welfare.

With the retail industry becoming increasing committed to the reduction of carbon footprints in the food supply chain, CO₂ savings of up to 97% from biomass versus LPG are another important benefit.

The government RHI scheme pays the owners of eligible commercial renewable technologies (which include wood burning boilers and biomass heating) for the heat they generate and use. The returns are not insignificant. As an example, a farm with a 100kw system could expect to gain upwards of £11,000 a year, every year of the RHI scheme, index linked to inflation. For full conversion from LPG to biomass heating, typically 1kW of biomass generated heat will heat 8-10m2 of poultry floor space.

Combining fuel cost savings from potential on-farm wood chipping, reduced bedding costs, the indirect performance benefits from growing birds in an improved environment, and a guaranteed 20 year RHI payment scheme, farmers can typically expect payback periods in the region of five to six years (including finance costs).

Over a number of years, Treco has gained a proven track record in biomass solutions and are experienced in complete end-to-end solutions for poultry house heating. If you're a poultry farmer or are just generally interested, contact us or fill in the form below to find out more about how a wood burning boiler can help poultry farmers increase margins, welfare and environment for a long-term future.

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