Preparing poultry houses for winter and cooler weather

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Unlike farms that only grow vegetables, poultry farms are active all year long and provide stable income through all seasons. However, each time of year brings along specific challenges and the winter months are difficult for birds.

Heat is easier to create in a building full of feathers, but harder to maintain especially if there is a leak. Dr. Tom Tabler, Jessica Wells and Dr. Wei Zhai of the Mississippi State University Extension service said that house tightness is most critical during the winter months not only for the health of the birds, but the efficiency of the farm.

MSU’s Eextension professors observed that air leak effects fuel costs as farm houses depend on it for air circulation and electricity. Outside walls should be checked for cracks, any curtains with flaps should be sealed and doors should be closed when not in use.

Tunnel flaps according to Tabler, Wells and Zhai are especially tricky being that they are heavier than most flaps because most of them come insulated. Insulated flaps need to be secured with strings and checked periodically in case of snapping strings. Tunnel doors should also be sealed, and there should be no holes in the vapor barrier or else heat will be lost.

Tabler also worked with the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture Extension Veterinarian Dr. F. Dustan Clark, Extension Poultry Specialist Dr Keith Bramwell and with research associate with the USDA-Agriculture Research Service Jonathan Moyle.

Clark, Bramwell, Moyle and Tabler also emphasize tightness, adding that tunnel curtains can snag at corners if not inspected closely.

Doors and flaps do not do much alone against the weather; the insulation is what is really guarding the birds. “Weather stripping or spray foam insulation to seal cracks and air leaks.” The University of Arkansas’ Extension Service said.

Windows, like some flaps, have insulation but should be kept tightly shut to ensure no heat escapes. Ceilings and sidewalls need to be checked for damage such as cracks, holes or anything that could compromise house tightness. Clark, Branwell, Moyle and Tabler said that turning off water hoses and wrapping exposed pipes in insulation will prevent water from freezing in the coldest months.

Cleanliness cannot wait for spring on a poultry farm, according to MSU. Ceiling fans need to be cleaned of dust and dirt to ensure maximum efficiency and ensure that not all the heat is kept at the higher areas. Fans that are not utilized during the winter should be covered.

The area around the birds is not the only thing to maintain, but also the litter and feed which can cause sky high profits in the winter if not checked. Feed lines, according to the University of Arkansas, need to be cleaned and inspected for clogs, preferably when there are no birds in the house. Keeping feed lids sealed is crucial, because it is especially desirable to rats and wild birds, some of which could be carrying diseases.

The University of Arkansas also stated that litter amendments are needed to help with ammonia levels.

Ammonia smells strongly but gas leaks are just as potent and signal problems that require immediate action. MSU says that spraying bottles of soapy water on pipes may reveal gas leaks if bubbles appear. Gas leaks can be caused by high pressure.

“When pressure is too low, heating units will only produce a weak yellow flame…” Tabler, Wells and Zhai said. “While the problem is often associated with too little gas in the tanks, undersized piping inside and/or outside the chicken house also can cause it…”

The MSU Extension service suggests checking piping orifices to ensure no clogs from the warmer months before. It is important to keep in mind that propane and natural gas systems have different operating pressure. A four degree difference needs to be present between cooling and heating set points. Any less and MSU said that the systems will be in competition, resulting in heating and cooling systems running at the same time.

Temperature sensor placement logic has changed in that modern poultry farms have multiple levels and one is no longer enough to give an accurate heat measurement. The University of Arkansas suggests placing the temperature sensor by the floor where the birds are and attached to a water cable, with the sensor moving up along with the water cable.

The university further suggests keeping a daily tab on the temperature of each house and look for differences. The changes can indicate uneven distribution of energy or lack of efficiency in the separate houses.

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