It was nearly 90 degrees in the shade this past summer when Ben and Keith Till of Lowndes County were making plans to keep their chickens warm this winter. They are among a growing number of poultry farmers investing in energy-saving renovations to improve their bottom lines.
“About four years ago, we added solid sidewalls to two houses,” said Keith, who, along with his son, Ben, has 12 poultry houses. “We’ve documented between 20-30 percent savings of propane gas in those houses. The colder the weather and the more gas we use, the more savings we’ve seen.
“With these upgrades, all of our houses now have solid sidewalls, and we’ve reinsulated the attics on the eight smaller, older houses. It should really make a difference this winter.”
The father-son partnership owns Windy Ridge LLC, which also raises broilers raises beef cattle, hay, grains and silage. Last year, they spent more than $100,000 for propane gas to heat their poultry houses. Besides electricity, which can cost as much as $23,000 a month for their poultry houses, propane is a main expense for their farm, Keith said.
While propane accounts for less than 2 percent of all energy used in the U.S., it is the main fuel source in rural areas without access to natural gas. With possible price swings like those experienced last winter, investing in energy-saving renovations make dollars and sense, said Jim Donald, Auburn University’s National Poultry Technology Center (NPTC) co-founder and interim director.
“The prices of production inputs—fuel, electricity, water and feed—have exploded over the past eight years, with increases of anywhere from 60 to 300 percent,” Donald said. “The center is providing timely applied research and Extension education that are leading to improved efficiencies in housing, equipment, energy and environmental control. Profitability can be greatly improved by applying and adopting new technologies.”
The NPTC was created seven years ago to help farmers like the Tills by providing free information on how to reduce energy costs and improve construction.
The center’s applied research thus far in the areas of poultry house insulation, lighting and retrofitting have brought significant energy and feed savings to the an estimated 30 percent of producers who have adopted NPTC recommendations. Future applied research on solar energy, attic-air extraction, colony housing designs and rainwater harvesting technology “could be game-changers,” Donald said.
More about the NPTC is available PoultryHouse.com.