With the start of colder winter weather, poultry growers across the nation, will turn their attention to heating their barns while maintaining proper ventilation.  Maintaining proper temperatures for bird comfort while at the same time providing fresh air for bird health is a constant challenge for the grower.  Large amounts of heating fuel, generally propane, is required to heat incoming fresh air to the target barn temperature of 90° or more when the birds are first delivered.  This creates a cycle of heating cold air, creating more moisture and CO2 from the heating process, and ventilating more air to replace that contaminated air.

For grower Bill Dicus of rural California, Mo. this will not be as big a concern this year.  Dicus has been growing turkeys for Cargill Inc. for over twenty years.  With one brood barn and one grow out barn, both built in 1995, little has changed in the heating technology of the operation since the buildings were built.   In March of 2016, Cargill and Dicus worked with Heartland Farm Energy LLC located in Boonville, to install a Waste Heat Recovery system (WHR) in his turkey brood barn. WHR preheats incoming fresh air thus reducing the amount of heating fuel required to heat the fresh air to the target barn temperature.  By doing this, heating fuel can be reduced by 40--50 percent depending on the individual barn and locale.  The Dicus barn was a pilot project that had been in the discussion phase for some time between Cargill and Heartland.   The first flock through the barn resulted in a savings of 48.5 percent in propane usage.

It turns out that energy savings was just one of the many benefits of the system.  “In addition to the propane savings, since the installation of the WHR system, birds seem to be more active due to the reduction of moisture and Co2 levels in the building” Dicus states.  “Furthermore, the drier air has resulted in drier litter which reduces foot pad  problems and makes removal of litter less of a chore”.

Another installation of WHR taking place at Harmony Hill Farms near Barnett, is owned and operated by Stanton Unruh.  Unruh says his decision to install the WHR was his interest in the propane savings and in improving air quality and bird health.  

Eugene Wickham, Flock Supervisor for Cargill states “We are careful to identify new technology and products to assist our growers.  We also want to make sure the system works as expected and that it makes economic sense so that our grower’s investment is paid off in a reasonable amount of time”.

“80-90 percent of the heating fuel consumed in poultry barns is lost through ventilation.  Using a WHR system, heated air that must be ventilated from the barn can be used to preheat incoming fresh air utilizing as much as 80 percent of the heat in the exhausted warm air” stated Tingsheng (Tennyson) Xu.  “Additionally, for every one gallon of propane burned, eight tenths of a gallon of moisture is created.  This moisture is deposited in the barn creating air quality and litter problems”.

Through sponsorship of the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy, the technology was developed at the University of Missouri, Columbia.   Co-inventor Tennyson Xu has licensed the technology through the University and created Heartland Farm Energy LLC in Boonville. to assemble the product.   He stated that the reason to locate in Boonville was partly due to the closing of several manufacturing businesses in the area and the resulting availability of a skilled workforce with knowledge of similar processes.  Bill Shelton manages the daily operation of the business, coordinating purchase and assembly of the product, new customer acquisition, and installations.   Xu continues to work to improve product design and operation, and collect field data for his research project supported by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant. While there is further development work to be done, USDA has recognized the effectiveness of the WHR system, and allows growers to apply for USDA renewable energy grants to assist with the cost of installation.

With Heartland Farm Energy LLC utilizing new technology created from research at the University of Missouri, a positive rural economic impact has been felt in Boonville through the translation of scientific research into jobs. Indirect, yet important economic impact is also created through the improvement of bird welfare, lessened impact on the environment, and the reduction of grower’s production costs.