A Poultry Farm Energy Investigation: Where Does All Your Energy Go?
Determine Your Energy Usage. Compare With Your Neighbor’s Farm.
If your poultry farm is like most of them, energy is your second biggest expense, behind only the mortgage on the property. So if you’re serious about wanting to cut costs to boost profits, you have to look at your energy usage and what you can do to reduce it.
This article should give you some ideas for where to start, and will offer both short and long-term solutions.
Broadly speaking, poultry house energy gets used for housing and feed. More specifically, this breaks down into five main categories:
- Lighting, which is on 24 hours straight at certain points of flock growth
- Ventilation – keeping the air circulated reduces the risk of diseases
- Heating in the winter – cold chickens conserve their energy and don’t grow as much
- Cooling in the summer – hot chickens die easier, and also use more energy to breathe
- Feed lines – most of these are automated
Not all of this has to be provided by electricity. Many poultry farms use propane for heating, for example. But you can’t run a poultry house without optimizing temperature and air quality for maximum growth, and light cycles play a pivotal role as well.
So that’s where almost all the energy goes. But that’s too broad to really be useful. In the next section, we’ll figure a way to quantify how much energy you’re using in a way that connects energy usage to flock production.
Determine Your Poultry Farm’s Actual Energy Use
Just looking at your bills isn’t helpful enough. Here’s a process developed by the University of Arkansas’ agriculture division. It helps calculates your energy use in a unit that eliminates all the variables, such as time of year and variations in energy efficiency. In other words, any poultry farm can use this approach, and then you can truly compare apples to apples (or chickens to chickens).
The unit we want to use is kWh per 1000 pounds of live weight, or kWh/1000lb wt.
Here’s the process:
- Add up 2 or more years of your total energy used, in kWh
- Divide that by the pounds of live poultry weight produced during that time
- Multiply by 1000
Again, this is more useful that just your average monthly bill, because it connects your energy use to your actual poultry production – in other words, your profit source. A super energy efficient poultry farm that produces hardly any chickens might therefore be less efficient than a farm that produces five abundant flocks per year, even if it wastes a little more energy.
Using this calculation, you can compare both energy and production in one number.
Poultry House Propane Use
If you use propane to heat your poultry houses, or for any other uses, you can do the same calculation with that. Just use gallons (or cubic feet) of propane over at least a 2-year period instead of kWh.
How Much Money Are You Losing to Energy Waste?
When Arkansas used this method to compare poultry farms in their state, they found some pretty surprising trends.
Farms ranged from 20 to 83 kWh/1000lb. That’s a huge range, with almost four times as much energy usage per live weight on the most inefficient farms. They found similar trends in propane usage, this time with a difference of more than five times between the low and high farms.
If your poultry farm is on the high end of this scale, then you stand to save a lot of money if you can reduce your energy usage without lowering your poultry production.
Poultry House Energy Use from Lighting
What about the lights? You’ve probably already considered upgrading to fluorescent, compact fluorescent (CFC), or even more expensive but super-efficient and very long-lasting LED bulbs.
Here’s a helpful metric to give your lighting analysis a little more hard data.
According to the Freeborn Mower Cooperative, incandescent bulbs use about 6 kWh per 100 birds per month. Fluorescent bulbs use about 2 kWh per 100 birds per month.
That site doesn’t comment on the even more efficient ones, but they will be lower than 2, with the LED bulbs probably much lower.
How many chickens do you produce per flock? Use those numbers as a starting point for calculating how much energy your lights are costing you.
With that, and with the other numbers you’ve found for overall energy and propane, you’ve got a better picture now of where your energy is going, and how much is going there.
How Can Poultry Farms Cut Costs Due to Energy?
You have two broad options to save money on energy.
- Get more efficient
- Produce your own energy
Both are terrific options, and when done in combination, the savings are even greater. Let’s look at some details for each option.
Poultry Farm Energy Efficiency Methods
An energy audit program in Maryland visited a number of poultry farms in the area. They found “potential annual production benefits worth $319,800” from various energy efficiency improvements from things like better insulation, sealing air leaks (a very common source of wasted energy on poultry farms), and more technical improvements like radiant tube heaters.
The audit also reports that upgrades like these decrease animal deaths. And this makes sense because as you know already and as we stated earlier, temperature and ventilation directly affect chicken comfort, health and growth.
A dirty ventilation fan that has to work really hard and uses lots of energy, probably isn’t doing as a good of a job for the chickens. In fact, the Maryland audit report claims dirty fans can be up to 40% less efficient than clean ones. 40%! Just a little care and maintenance can mean big money savings.
It’s a good idea to get an energy audit for your own poultry farm. And most state universities have a program that does them. So that’s a good place to look first if you’re interested.
A Delaware report on poultry farms and solar energy estimates that 20% of poultry house energy usage could be eliminated through efficiency improvements. If you’re spending $20,000 per year on energy, that’s a $4000 savings. Certainly nothing to sneeze at.
But here’s the problem with energy efficiency, if that’s your only strategy: Electricity and propane prices keep rising, and you do have to spend money to invest in most energy efficiency solutions.
From 2000 to 2007, propane prices in Arkansas went up almost 400%. And electricity rates across the nation have been going up a lot the last few years, and will continue to do so as oil and natural gas become more expensive. This means that while energy efficiency will reduce your usage, the ever-rising prices will cause your actual costs to keep going up. Imagine investing a bunch of money into efficiency only to get a bill that’s just as high as it was before. How aggravating!
Producing Your Own Energy with Solar Power
With solar power, unlike efficiency improvements, you’re now producing your own energy. And the only limit to how much you can produce is the amount of sunlight and the size of your roof. And that’s where poultry farms have it made. Because those are some big roofs!
A 50 kW system produces thousands of kWh per month. And it’s totally free energy. So unlike energy efficiency, once the solar array is paid for, you have years (decades, potentially) of totally free energy. And if you get a system that produces close to your total energy usage, that means you are immune from utility price increases.
It’s pretty common these days to be able to fully recover the costs of a solar array in around five years, especially if your farm qualifies for a REAP grant, which many of our customers have succeeded in doing.
Another reason solar helps reduce your farm’s energy cost problems is all that time between flocks.
Usually it’s about two weeks while you clean and reset the house. If you produce five flocks per year, you’ve got about ten weeks where your poultry houses use very little power. But your solar panels can keep producing energy during that whole period of time.
If your utility offers net metering, you can sell this huge two-week excess back to the grid and make some decent money for it.
If you’re interested in learning more, join our newsletter by signing up on the right side of this page, or just contact us here and talk to one of our poultry farm solar specialists.
Coastal Solar has installed numerous poultry farm arrays in Georgia, and is looking to expand to farms in surrounding states as well.