Propane is a common heat source in agricultural buildings. But propane can also cause severe illness in poultry.
Three West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design researchers used what was once a waste product from the forestry sector to improve the health of chickens and use less fossil fuel on farms.
With the support of a $250,000 USDA Forest Service grant Joe Moritz (professor of poultry science), Jingxin Wang (director, WVU Centre for Sustainable Biomaterials, and Bioenergy), as well as Shawn Grushecky (assistant prof of energy land administration), are studying the potential advantages of using a wood boiler that includes a heat exchanging unit that is heated by hot water.
The water is heated from wood byproducts. It runs through the heat switcher where a fan blows. This creates dry heat.
Researchers like Moritz believe that the environment and animal welfare are vital values for modern society. Chickens are more susceptible to digestive disorders that can lead to damper barn conditions.
He said that a barn can house anywhere from 25,000 to 65,000 chickens. Propane to heat the barn can exacerbate the problem and cause more wet conditions. Chickens can develop calluses and blisters on their feet. We don’t want our animals to be hurt.
Their research has shown that this system dries litter and improves bird welfare, as evidenced by higher foot pad scores. This is an indicator of welfare.
Moritz noted that the feet of birds raised in these dry conditions were much more attractive. Aside from health, thats also an economically-important product that sells to different Asian markets.
The wood boiler system also has the added benefit of replacing propane with wood energy. Wang is specifically looking at the energy efficiency and emission of various wood products such as sawdust, chips, pellets and pellets in comparison to fossil fuels. Using less propane means reducing carbon dioxide emissions. His goal is to promote wood energy in the region, which is often underutilized.
“Wood is a strategic replacement as an energy fuel source because of the vast availability of wood residues from timber harvesting that can be used for wood boiler fuel, Wang said. Although propane has a higher efficiency, it has a lower humidity and ammonia level. Both are bad for birds’ health. Wood energy conversion is a cleaner, renewable fuel that provides high-energy efficiency and healthier conditions for birds.
Because of its many and far-reaching benefits the research is supported by industry partners such as Pilgrims Pride, Allegheny Wood Products, Poultry Specialties, and Allegheny Wood Products, which donated chickens and sawdust for fuel. The Davis College invested $25,000 in the installation of the wood energy system at WVU’s Animal Science Farm.
They hope that, if the research continues, farmers across the state will eventually be able to replace their propane heating systems with this one.
Grushecky explained that we’ve been looking at expanding wood products’ market. This is a way for more farms to heat their wood products. This is a new market for wood products that was not considered before.
Before that can occur, the experiment will need to be replicated in colder temperature. The next step is to educate poultry industry about the system.
It’s a great collaboration: a critical problem is being addressed by multiple faculty members, and different industries supporting it, Moritz said. The West Virginia economy is heavily based on forestry, and poultry is the most important agricultural commodity in West Virginia. This could have the potential to improve both those industries and the environment by one change.