Poultry houses can consume a fair amount of energy – solar heaters and solar panels for chicken houses may be able to solve some of these problems, and at the same time contribute to the green economy. While solar panel technology is well established in South Africa, it is yet to be integrated into poultry farming. A large chicken house uses a fair amount of hot water – most of it is in the “shower in” and “shower out” rule that most commercial chicken farms follow. With the huge spaces on a chicken house roof, and the abundant sun power in S.A. it is a bit strange that solar panels are not extensively used on poultry farms. Of course, one of the biggest energy drains on a chicken farm is the heating and cooling of a poultry house – and technology has not come far enough to make any commercial sense in using solar heaters. Gas is still the best way to heat a chicken house, and fans for cooling. Closed environment houses manage heating and cooling more effectively, but it is still a large portion of the costs involved in running a poultry farm. Many of the older chicken farms use coal for heating, while this is inexpensive for the farmer, the cost to the planet is huge, but as long as coal allowed, and actively marketed, it is unlikely that this will change. Coal is used in a piece of poultry equipment known as a “Heatco”. This contraption sits outside the house and has a coal fire burning in the bottom – the fire heats an air cavity above the fire and a fan pushes the hot air into the structure through a long plastic tube called an air sock. There are large holes perforated in the sock that release the warm air. Apart from the emissions caused by burning the coal, there is the transport of the coal itself that adds to this planet killing method.
Using solar heating for water is one thing – water from a solar geyser will stay warm for 24 hours – and is not a critical function in solar poultry houses – the problem is that young chickens, in the first few weeks of their lives, need heat – 33 degrees C in the first week – throughout the entire structure, 24 hours a day. Solar heating does not solve this challenge. Not with the technology that has been developed so far. One idea is to run hot water through pipes in the house -the setup costs become prohibitive and with the cut throat nature of intensive poultry farming, this method is not likely to be used. The other challenge is that in open environment housing the curtains need to be open to allow ventilation and to maintain humidity at acceptable levels. A farmer in South Africa has developed a method of using chicken dropping and the litter in a methane based extraction plant. This method has successfully been used on several cattle farms in the United States – but any queries sent to the South African farmer are ignored – so either he is so busy with a successful method or it is not working and he has no more interest. The anaerobic digester converts the waste into gas. The methane is then supposed to be used in a generator to supply heat to the house. The solid waste from the process makes or good fertilizer. These alternative methods, while promising, offer no solutions in the shrt term – the concept of a solar poultry house is just not viable in South Africa at this time.