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Court Farm Chickens, part of FM Green, was named winner of the ‘Most Carbon Neutral Scheme’ at the Energy Now Awards 2017, thanks to its approach to reducing fossil fuel derived activity. With a number of renewable installations in place, including 500kW of solar PV to supply electricity, biomass boilers which are used to heat the chicken sheds, and a 500kWe anaerobic digester, FM Green aims to utilise every possible aspect of the farm in order to be sustainable.
Having previously worked in red meat, Court Farms focused its efforts on poultry in 2002 having fallen victim to foot and mouth disease in 2000. Since then, the farm has gone from strength to strength in its poultry offering, to supply produce to a number of popular brands and supermarkets.
What was the issue?
Not long after joining Court Farms, Richard identified potential areas for improvement with the ventilation systems in place across the existing sheds at Long Orchard site, particularly during windy conditions when the extract fans would allow wind to enter the building, creating fluctuations in temperature.
Richard began to look at alternative options more suited to the farm’s needs and came across agricultural ventilation specialist Hydor at the Pig and Poultry Show.
Control at the touch of a button
As the welfare of the birds always remains the most important priority, particularly for young chicks which are unable to self-regulate their body temperature for the first 14 days of their lives, it was crucial for Richard to invest in a system he could rely on to assist him.
He said: “When designing the system, I wasn’t looking for a computer which would run the shed itself – that’s my job. Instead, I was after a system that would provide enough detail to assist me in making the right decisions, and keep the shed running it at its most efficient. I was looking to have full control of managing the birds, and although a computer might be able to register the data within and outside of the shed, it isn’t able to observe the birds and react to how they are behaving.
“We have to look at feed conversion, and in order for the business to be successful we have to manage these birds effectively. If the birds aren’t happy, we won’t achieve good production, which is why the two go hand in hand.”
With this in mind, a computer which monitors the indoor and outdoor temperatures, CO2 levels, and inside and outside humidity, was selected, as this would provide Richard with the information he required and details of whether the ventilation is working effectively – all of which could be manageable from an easy to use interface.
Although Richard was aware of the potential benefits of underfloor heating, he was also aware that, by design, it cannot react quickly enough to extreme temperatures, and it would take time to heat the shed if it was the sole source of heat. The recommended solution was to install radiators throughout the shed, which would work alongside the underfloor heating to ensure rapid temperature increases. Additionally, in the unlikely event of a failure, box gas heaters were also installed as a back up.
With tunnel fans installed on one end of the shed and double doors on the other – both of which historically leak air, thus making the ends of the shed cooler than the middle – the two new sheds were both divided into three sections. This approach allows Richard to ensure that an even temperature is achieved across the two cooler end sections and warmer middle.
When the chicks are first placed in a shed, a warmer temperature is generally needed, meaning that during the early stages of a crop, ventilation is used to recycle the air and make sure it stays fresh and oxygenated. Because of the use of biomass underfloor water heaters, the only CO2 created is by the chicks themselves. To achieve optimum results, a ventilation cycle was set via the programming system to happen every five minutes, ensuring the chicks were kept at an optimum temperature with a regular supply of fresh air.
As the birds get older, and produce higher levels of body heat, the purpose of the ventilation must adapt and change in order to keep the birds cool and remove warm stale air. The tunnel inlets installed along the side of the building can be opened, allowing fresh air to enter through the sides which is then dragged down to the fans at the bottom of the shed to be removed. The dragging of the air throughout the shed creates a breeze, helping to keep the temperature cool during extreme, hot summer days. This system has proven its worth as the five hottest days of 2017 happened during the end of the first crop, which evidently dramatically reduced heat stress.
Reaping the rewards
The ventilation system was really put to the test during the first weeks of running, as the first crop was 32 days into its cycle when the country experienced some of the warmest days of the year. The team at the farm were resting on the fact that the ventilation would work in order to keep their chicks healthy and happy.
Thanks to Hydor allowing sufficient time for a detailed system handover with Richard prior to the first crop going in, the system was able to operate to its full potential right from day one. This was further helped by the seven day allowance for commissioning, which was achieved as a result of the collaboration of all suppliers to the site.
Richard explained: “When we’re faced with incredibly warm days, the birds’ welfare is always a concern for us, and as this came so soon after completing the sheds, we had no idea how the ventilation would perform. Luckily, everything went smoothly – even with the system running at full capacity – and the sheds were kept at a suitable temperature for the chickens.
“A big advantage to working with Hydor was that we were not limited in our options – they have a wide variety of products, and if they didn’t stock an item I was looking for, they went out of their way to source it for me. At the end of the day, the health and welfare of the animals isn’t something we’re ever willing to compromise on, so we wanted to be 100% happy with the products we were investing in.”
For the shed’s first crop, Richard was able to generate above the expected margins, which was an impressive result. Richard explained: “While you’re still fine tuning the shed, you know that your results aren’t going to be quite as high as you’d hope, but to achieve above the expected margin the first time around was unheard of – particularly considering the extreme temperatures we faced during the crop. As this was our first time using a new supplier, the owner of the farm was incredibly pleased with the performance, and the processor was impressed by the quality of the birds.”