How do you keep chickens cool in a warming climate?

Hot enough to fry an egg on a tin roof! At least the chickens will be cool with that. Australia’s temperature-sensitive poultry farms are about to get their own breed of hybrid geothermal and solar energy system to balance our climate.

The Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is funding an effort between the University of Melbourne and geothermal companies Ground Source Systems and Fourth Element Industry to create poultry-specific powerhouses.

It needs to be clean. But it must also be constant.

Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning are vital to keep chickens happy and producing good quality eggs. While their broiler cousins have a slightly broader comfort zone, it’s still important to match temperature and humidity with their age.

At the moment, this generally involves a mix of LP gas heaters and evaporative coolers, costing the industry between $80 million and $100 million in power bills each year.

The $318,000 ARENA grant seeks to establish a way to blend the raw solar power of a heatwave sun with the steady consistency of heat-exchange technology during frosty nights.

The electricity generated will power modern heat-pump air-conditioners. Meanwhile, a small-scale geothermal exchange will tap into constant underground soil temperatures to reduce how hard the air-conditioners have to work. The first technology demonstrator will be installed at the Bargo commercial poultry farm in Yanderra, New South Wales, later this year.

“We are excited about leading the way with this new technology and potentially expanding its use across more of our sheds,” says Bargo farm manager Simon Zerafa.

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Newborn and juvenile chicks are particularly susceptible to temperature change but even adult chickens like a consistent 20°C to 24°C. Every 1°C less means a chicken needs an extra 1.5g of feed per day to warm itself. And when temperatures rise above 24°C, shell thicknesses and egg weights are reduced.

Each of these temperature-based influences, therefore, has a direct commercial impact.

“Another benefit of the system is that it will reduce chick mortality by removing the humidity associated with gas heating,” adds Zerafa.

University of Melbourne Professor Guillermo Narsilio says 827 similar poultry farms across Australia could benefit from this optimised and efficient green power source.

Such hybrid systems would need to be retrofitted at each site. Once installed, they’d reduce the energy cost to farmers by 75 to  90 perecnt less than existing grid electricity and LP gas.

Director of Ground Source Systems, Brad Donovan, says any installation costs would likely be recovered within three to six years. The research project will also explore ways to assist with upfront costs.

The Bargo pilot project will have a backup gas power source.

Climate change mitigation benefits will be significant.

“If we can achieve 15 to 20 percent market uptake in the Australian poultry industry, it would reduce at least one-tenth, or 160,000 tonnes, of the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Narsilio says.

If every chicken farm adopts the technology, the sector’s yearly 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 will be cut to 0.8 million tonnes.

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